The opening of Village Books and Paper Dreams helped to revitalize Fairhaven in the 1980s. Since then, the bookstore has stuck to its motto of “building community, one book at a time” with its regular readings, writing workshops and family-friendly events.
When Chuck and Dee Robinson, the founders of Village Books, arrived in Fairhaven, they were met with “a rather sorry-looking place,” said Brian Griffin, author of “Fairhaven, A History.”
The Robinsons put countless hours into their business and it flourished into the “pulsing-beating heart of the Fairhaven community,” Griffin said.
This work has not gone unrecognized, as in 2008 Village Books won the Outstanding Philanthropic Small Business Award for Washington State.
Not only have the Robinsons built a community with sister bookstores in Fairhaven and Lynden, but they also support other local businesses and organizations.
The Robinsons had helped raise over $5 million for the North Cascades Institute’s new environmental learning center, doubling the number of kids who were able to attend. They also helped start the Think Local First campaign, which made a strong impact on the purchasing behavior of numerous Bellingham households.
“It’s a very welcoming store with very knowledgeable staff and I appreciate all they contribute to the community,” said Robin Robertson, president of the Fairhaven Association. “They are one of the main anchors here in Fairhaven.”
Its history as a community hub is what first drew new owners Paul Hanson and Kelly Evert to Village Books in 2011. They previously owned a bookstore on Bainbridge Island and were “always trying to imitate [Village Books], [but] Bellingham just has a special magical quality. You can replicate the things that they do, but you can't replicate the community,” Hanson said.
After managing day-to-day operations for 6 years, Hanson and Evert, along with long-time employee Sarah Hutton, purchased Village Books from the Robinsons in 2017.
“We know the responsibility we’ve inherited,” Hanson said.
The new owners seek to carry the torch that the Robinsons lit, introducing various inclusive events to the community.
At the tail end of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fairhaven Association created a Murder Mystery event in the hopes of getting people outside and together again, which Village Books became the presenting sponsor for. The third annual Dirty Dan Murder Mystery event recently occurred on the weekend of April 29.
Dozens of gumshoes, also known as detectives, mainly kids, families and couples, explored Fairhaven Village trying to solve the murder of Mr. Nelson Larrybees. They visited 25 clue locations – local businesses – and questioned “suspects”; among them were Village Books owners Hanson and Evert.
Businesses that carried the clues were encouraged to play along with the mystery.
“It takes a lot of people to make this happen. We are appreciative as a small business,” said Cami and Steve Grichel, owners of Whimsey.
This year, the murder mystery was written by author Jes Hart Stone.
“She set a great foundation and everybody [built] on it with such vigor and enthusiasm,” said Chris Homan, one of the actors.
At the conclusion of the weekend, the culprit was revealed and the gumshoes who solved the mystery correctly were entered into a raffle that awarded gifts from local businesses.
The murder mystery will be brought back again during next year’s Dirty Dan weekend, which is the last week of April.
This coming Friday, May 12, Village Books will be hosting a reading by Bobbie Scopa, a transgender firefighter who will be discussing her memoir “Both Sides of the Fire Line,” which has now become required reading for the lieutenant’s test in the Seattle Firefighter Department.
In her 45 years as a firefighter, Scopa earned many achievements, such as Firefighter of the Year in 1990 and a certificate of appreciation from the City of New York for serving at Ground Zero immediately after 9/11.
As a firefighter, Scopa avoided talking about being transgender, which motivated her to come out with her story now. She hopes her story gives readers a new perspective on transgender people.
“People who haven’t had any exposure, their image of transgender people is what they see on the news, some Hollywood person. When people find out I am transgender, they say ‘You’re different.’ But everybody’s different,” Scopa said.
During Scopa’s book tour, one bookstore owner invited the local fire department. Scopa did not expect the firefighters to attend a reading about a transgender firefighter, but they did.
“You could see [the firefighters] weren’t too crazy about it, but once the conversation started going, they engaged,” Scopa said.
Village Books provides readings each Friday by diverse authors and offers about a dozen other events each week.
Eli Voorhies (he/him) is a city life reporter for The Front. He is a second-year student pre-majoring in visual journalism. He likes covering stories about niche events and art. His interests include calisthenics, photography, and outdoor activities. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org