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One person's donation is another's favorite book

Check Bellingham's local bookstores before ordering from Amazon

The interior of Henderson Books in downtown Bellingham, Wash. on Oct. 27, 2023. Henderson Books hosts a wide inventory of used books spanning genre, topic, language and era. // Photos by Aubrey Black

Do you have an insatiable appetite for reading? Are the rising book prices just too much to keep up with? Have you ever wanted to rob a library? Have you ever felt bad for wanting to rob a library?

The solution to your woes may only be a bus ride away.

Bellingham and Fairhaven are home to many locally-owned used bookstores that offer pre-loved books at a discounted price, so your wallet can keep up with your to-be-read list.

One of those used bookstores is Henderson Books, right in the heart of downtown Bellingham. With an estimated 300,000 books contained in the 6,500 square feet of the store, Henderson Books hosts a wide variety of genres for every preference.

“Most of our books come from people who bring them to us, either from their private collections when they downsize or from relatives who have died,” said Robin Sheasley, a bookseller at Henderson Books.

Sheasley also said it’s not uncommon for used bookstores to sell online through Amazon to reach more customers.

Though Anna Helsel, a second-year at Western Washington University, said going to a used bookstore in-person is part of the experience.

“There’s just something about getting on the bus, sitting with my headphones, wearing a cute outfit and walking through the doors of Henderson’s,” Helsel said. “It just makes me feel so cool and mysterious.”

Helsel said that some people might be turned off from used book shopping because of the types of books they’re looking for.

“You’re not going to be able to find the newest Taylor Jenkins Reid book at a used bookstore,” Helsel said. 

Helsel knows their taste in authors and books, which makes navigating used bookstores easier. That instinct may take time for newer readers.

For people new to used book shopping, Helsel suggests they seek guidance from the owners. 

At Henderson’s, for instance, “They know their stock really well,” Helsel said. “If you ask about a book and they have it, they’ll take you right to it.” 

On the other hand, buying books from Amazon or Barnes and Noble is quick and convenient if you have a specific book in mind. You can place an order and have it arrive at your house in a matter of days. 

However, there is a ripple effect to online book shopping.

Jenna Deane is the Toward Zero Waste program manager at Sustainable Connections and said a big issue with online shopping is the amount of waste the packaging creates.

“The pandemic was a huge influence on us because people needed to buy things from the safety of their homes,” Deane said. “But I think encouraging a trend back to in-person shopping with small businesses will have a really positive impact on the pollution being created.”

Deane said being intentional with your purchasing decisions is the first step in the right direction when it comes to sustainability.

Sustainable Connections’ Think Local First program has a directory of local businesses organized by ownership and business category that simplifies shopping locally in Bellingham. 

For example, if you simply must have that new book that’s been infecting your TikTok feed, there are local options that have you covered.

Paul Hanson is the co-owner of Village Books with locations in Fairhaven and Lynden where they sell used and new books.

Hanson said that they curate their inventory according to the needs of their customer base. Every book on the shelves at Village Books has been thought out and handpicked.

“If we don’t have something that someone asks for, we’ll get it if we’re able,” Hanson said. “It allows us to have a level of local control you don’t often find in chain businesses.”

According to American Express’s 2022 Small Business Saturday Economic Impact Study, 67 cents of every dollar spent at a small business stays in the local economy. This circulation keeps local businesses’ doors open. 

“Truly it’s just being a good neighbor,” Hanson said. “If everyone invested and supported each other, we would all be better taken care of.”

Aubrey Black

Aubrey Black (she/they) is a second-year news-ed major at Western. She enjoys making Spotify playlists and perusing used bookstores. 

You can contact her at

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