The new ownership group consists of current employees Kelly Evert, Paul Hanson, and Sarah Hutton, each of whom has, as a team, handled much of the day-to-day operations for the past several years.
The sale includes both the Fairhaven and Lynden locations.
Chuck and Dee Robinson opened Village Books in Fairhaven in 1980 and expanded the business two years later with Paper Dreams. In 2015, the couple – along with fellow Leadership Team members Kelly, Paul, and Sarah – opened a second store in Lynden’s Waples Building.
Village Books and Paper Dreams is a four-time finalist for Publishers Weekly’s Bookstore of the Year award and the recipient of Washington State’s Outstanding Philanthropic Small Business award. Chuck and Dee are recipients of the 2016 Bellingham Whatcom Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year and Woman of the Year awards.
Chuck will remain on a consulting basis and continue his work with the Chuckanut Writers Conference; he and Dee will both retain their roles at the Chuckanut Radio Hour. Dee retired from everyday involvement in the stores two years ago, but has continued to be involved in all strategic decisions.
“I didn’t think until this past spring that I was ready,” says Chuck, sitting in the living room of his and Dee’s Lynden home, where the couple moved from Fairhaven this past June. “This move was part of getting ready for that – not that we even knew then that it would be this immediate.”
While conversation had been going on for some time, a decision to move forward with this now occurred while the couple was traveling earlier this year. “We knew we wanted to sell while we’re both healthy,” says Chuck. “We have a lot more traveling to do.”
Dee concurs, and says she also looks forward to enjoying their new home in Lynden, catching up on the books they’ve stockpiled over the years, and taking on a new hobby: gardening.
The couple is confident in their choice of new owners. “They work so well together,” Chuck says. Dee nods. “They all have different strengths, which is true of the two of us,” she says. “We’re not worried at all about the transition.”
All three new owners have been with the stores a long time and have extensive book selling and retail backgrounds.
“I’ll continue to work with them, but they’ll be in charge of everything,” says Chuck, with a smile. “I’ll be at their beck and call.”
Part of the idea of opening the Lynden store was to expand the revenue stream of the business in a way that made it more viable for the three to take ownership.
Kelly has been with the store for five-and-a-half years, having worked in three other independent bookstores beginning in 1989. In addition to her general management duties at Village Books and Paper Dreams, she has been the Gift Buyer and Merchandise Manager.
Paul came to the company at the same time (the couple married in 2013), first as Community Outreach Director, and then as General Manager. Previously, he was the Manager of Eagle Harbor Books on Bainbridge Island for 15 years, after having worked for several years in bookstores in Illinois and the Seattle area.
Sarah came to Village Books and Paper Dreams 11 years ago, after starting her bookselling career after college as an inventory specialist for Borders. She has been Store Manager for more than seven years and until recently was also the children’s book buyer.
“The three of them want to be introduced to people in the community that they don’t know yet,” says Chuck, who – along with Dee – has been instrumental in building strong partnerships for the stores across Whatcom County.
“Little by little, they’ve been taking on more of that and want to be involved in the same way we have been. They don’t know what they’re asking for!” Chuck says with a laugh.
The Robinsons knew it was vital that the stores’ new owners not only have the talent and skills to carry on the business, but that they also share the values on which Village Books and Paper Dreams are built. “Our mission has been to build community, and these folks have that in their DNA,” says Chuck. “We couldn’t have found a better team if we had scoured the entire country.”
Kelly says the new ownership trio is thrilled – and humbled.
“This business has become an institution in this community and we’re so excited to be given the opportunity to carry on the legacy Dee and Chuck are leaving,” she says.
Paul agrees. “It doesn’t matter where you go in the country, people know these stores,” he says. “We know we have a great responsibility to this community and to a wider community of booksellers. We’re honored to carry on the mission of this business.”
When Sarah arrived more than a decade ago, she knew she was coming to work in a special place. “I didn’t know then that I’d end up being an owner,” she says, “but I’m so pleased and proud to take on that position.”
When asked if he thought the new owners would change things, Chuck says of course – and that he and Dee will encourage them to do so; after all, the business has survived and thrived by constantly changing.
“What won’t change is the commitment to this community, to books, to free expression, and to providing a great customer experience and personal service,” Chuck says. “These folks have lived the core values of this business and will continue to uphold them.”
A combination reception for the new owners and farewell for Chuck and Dee will take place at the Fairhaven store on Saturday, February 4, and at the Lynden location on Sunday, February 5.
The new owners will also hold a series of meet-and-greets over coffee and pastries in Book Fare Café at Village Books in Fairhaven, and at Avenue Bread in Lynden during the month of February. Dates will be announced on the website and in email newsletters.