Chuck and Dee Robinson, co-owners of Village Books and Paper Dreams in Bellingham and Lynden, Washington, have announced the sale of the business, effective January 1, 2017, to three current employees of the company — Kelly Evert, Paul Hanson, and Sarah Hutton. The three, along with Chuck and Dee, have been members of the Leadership Team and have handled most day-to-day operations for the past several years. The sale includes both the Fairhaven and Lynden locations.
“The time is right,” said Chuck, who along with Dee founded the bookstore in June of 1980 and added the Paper Dreams side of the business two years later. “There has been a net gain of independent bookstores in each of the last seven years. Our business is doing well in Fairhaven and we’re thrilled with the success of the Lynden store. And, most important, we have the right team in place to carry this business forward.”
Dee retired from everyday involvement in the stores two years ago but has continued to be involved in all strategic decisions. Chuck, who in the past few years has worked more from his home office and in the larger community, will continue to consult with the stores over the next several years and direct special projects. He also intends to do some business consulting with bookstores and other retail businesses around the country. Both Chuck and Dee will continue their involvement with the Chuckanut Radio Hour.
“We’re both in good health,” said Dee, “and we want to spend more time traveling, enjoying our home in Lynden, and reading the books we’ve stockpiled over the years. I’ve even begun to take up gardening.”
In deciding how to transition the business it was important to the Robinsons that new owners not only have the talent and skills to carry on the business, but that they share the values on which Village Books and Paper Dreams has been built. “Our mission has been to build community. These folks have that in their DNA. We couldn’t have found a better team if we had scoured the entire country,” said Chuck.
Kelly, who has been with the store for five and a half years, brings many years of general retail, buying, and interior design experience, and has worked in three other independent bookstores since 1989. She, in addition to her general management duties, has been the Gift Buyer and Merchandise Manager. Paul, who came to the company at that same time, first as the Community Outreach Director then becoming General Manager, was for fifteen years the Manager of Eagle Harbor Books on Bainbridge Island. Before that he worked for several years in bookstores in Illinois and in the Seattle area. Sarah began her bookselling career after college, becoming an inventory specialist for Borders. She came to Village Books and Paper Dreams eleven years ago and has been the store manager for more than seven years. Until recently she was also the children’s book buyer.
“We’re thrilled and humbled,” said Kelly. “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.” Paul, echoing Kelly’s sentiments, said, “It doesn’t matter where you go in the country, people know these stores. We know we have a great responsibility to this community and to a wider community of booksellers. We’re honored to have been chosen to carry on the mission of this business.” Sarah, reflecting on her time in the business says, “I knew I was coming to work in a special place when I arrived more than a decade ago. I didn’t know then that I’d end up being an owner, but I’m so pleased and proud to take on that position.”
When asked if he thought the new owners would change things, Chuck replied, “Of course they will — we would encourage them to. This 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. These folks have lived the core values of this business and will continue to uphold them.”
The business is a four-time finalist for Publishers Weekly’s Bookstore of the Year award, the recipient of Washington State’s Outstanding Philanthropic Small Business award, and Chuck and Dee are the 2016 recipients of the Bellingham Whatcom Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year and Woman of the Year awards.
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.