Anyone who lives in Bellingham knows the open, inviting, independent bookstore Village Books and its next-door neighbor, the gift shop Paper Dreams. Village Books is an anchor in the community, functioning as more than just a retail space. It is a gathering place that embodies what Bellingham is about: partnerships, community- building, and being locally focused. The large brick building in Historic Fairhaven houses three floors of new and used books, a café, and a gorgeous glass sculpture by local artist Christopher Morrison. One could spend all day here browsing the large variety of books that were chosen by Village Books’ buyers and staff, and sitting in the separately owned Book Fare Café that overlooks Bellingham Bay. Village Books’ goal is not just to sell books, but to connect with the area and be a place where residents, readers, writers, and visitors alike can have a meaningful experience.
“We build community and books are how we do it,” said Paul Hanson, general manager and leadership team member. “It’s a wonderful vehicle to bring people, organizations, and individuals together and drives a lot of the decisions we make.”
With more than 350 events a year including author events, writing classes, writing groups, book groups, and hundreds of community partnerships, Village Books is no doubt a community asset.
Celebrating their 35th year, Village Books and Paper Dreams has come a long way from when owners Chuck and Dee Robinson opened the store, which was only 1,500 square feet and was run by the couple by themselves. Now at ten times the space and with 30 employees, Village Books is expanding its outreach with a new location in Lynden planned to open in mid-November. “We have been sort of overwhelmed by the positive reception we have gotten from the people in Lynden, it’s a pretty exciting thing for downtown,” Chuck Robinson said.
Hanson, along with Chuck and Dee Robinson and two other members of the leadership team at Village Books are all involved with the plans for the new location and transitioning to two stores. “We’ve always had a big customer base, we know from our subscribers and book members that a lot of them live on the north end,” Hanson said when talking about their choice to open the store in Lynden.
Located in the heart of Lynden, the new location will be part of a remodel of the historic Delft Square building, which will be renamed the Waples Mercantile Building. The building will be oriented toward local businesses, including Village Books and Paper Dreams. There will also be a 35-room inn, a new Drizzle Olive Oil and Vinegar Tasting Room, a new Avenue Bread and a taproom called Overflow Taps. Robinson said the inn alone will bring a great built-in audience for the bookstore.
The Waples Mercantile Building is now on the National Register of Historic Places, and has been vacant since a 2008 fire. Hanson said the building was built around 80 years ago as a department store and has been an intrinsic part of the community for a very long time, a perfect place for a community bookstore. “It’s an exciting stage right now,” Hanson said. “The new building is retaining its original character with a wonderful historic sense.”
The Waples Mercantile Building is built with concrete walls, huge timbers, wooden floors and 19-foot ceilings. The mezzanine floor will have a conference room with windows overlooking the bookstore. This area will be intended as an event space for the community to gather in as a part of the many events and book clubs that Village Books hosts.
Hanson said the new location only made sense, as the developers are community-focused, making it a natural continuation of the bookstore’s outreach and to keep and build more local partnerships in Lynden. The Lynden Public Library, schools, and senior centers want to get involved in the new location. “We aren’t even there yet and the community is already embracing us,” Hanson said.
Bellingham-based RMC Architects will be designing the new building and have designed buildings throughout Whatcom County including the Lynden Public Library, Marina Square and the Squalicum Boathouse.
The renovated Waples Mercantile Building is set to revive downtown Lynden and bring more people to the area. Based on their success in Fairhaven, Village Books, and Paper Dreams is an ideal addition.