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Longtime Bellingham bookstore to close Dec. 31

Owner Michael Elmer, shown Oct. 12 2015, is closing his bookstore, Michael’s Books in downtown Bellingham, after 32 years and plans to move to Vancouver, Wash.
Owner Michael Elmer, shown Oct. 12 2015, is closing his bookstore, Michael’s Books in downtown Bellingham, after 32 years and plans to move to Vancouver, Wash. The Bellingham Herald

Michael Elmer is ready for a new chapter in his life, but it will mean the closure of a longtime local bookstore.

Last week, Elmer announced to customers that he’s closing Michael’s Books at 109 Grand Ave. The last day of business for the 32-year-old store is Dec. 31.

Elmer and his wife, Deb Strom, plan to move Vancouver, Wash. For Elmer, it’s a chance to try something new, such as writing about his time as a bookseller, or helping others start a bookstore.

“It will be sad to have Michael’s gone, but what will be coming out of it will be amazing,” Elmer said.

The bookstore itself is quite an achievement. Elmer doesn’t have an exact count, but he estimates the store is filled with 250,000 books, including plenty of rare and out-of-print titles, such as a first edition of “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee and a first edition of the book “Shrek” by William Steig.

He opened the doors of Michael’s Books as a 23-year-old. Now 55, he feels he’s a different person because of the experience of running the business.

“It’s tempered me and made me a better person,” Elmer said.

One thing he wants to do is to make sure bookstores continue to thrive in Bellingham and other areas. He has plenty of inventory and would love to help those interested in running their own bookstore by providing some advice and selling them some of the books to get started. He envisions a series of interconnected bookstores up and down the West Coast.

He’s also interested in writing books about his experiences as a bookstore owner, something that has been a part of most of his life.

Looking back, he will have plenty of possible stories to tell, many of them good experiences. He said adults that he didn’t remember have come up to him over the years, expressing gratitude for being able to wander through his store as children, saying how much it meant to them. He also has stories of children who weren’t interested in reading until they found that special book to take home and read late into the night.

Even with the thousands of books that have passed in and out of the store over the years, Elmer doesn’t take long to answer the book he’s read the most over the years: Frank Herbert’s classic science fiction novel, “Dune.”

“Every time I read it, I’m a new person,” Elmer said. “I get new things from it every time.”

Elmer said celebrations are being planned and the traditional hot spiced cider he serves from Thanksgiving until the end of the year is still in place. For details and updates, visit the store’s Facebook page.

Reach Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BhamHeraldBiz and on Facebook at BellinghamHeraldBusiness.

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