This June the champagne is flowing steadily at Village Books in Bellingham, Washington. The bookstore turns 30, and co-owner Chuck Robinson turns author with the publication of It Takes a Village Books: 30 Years of Building Community, One Book at a Time.
"In addition to our annual anniversary sale, there will be three events to celebrate the anniversary and the book," said Robinson via e-mail. "This coming Thursday evening I'll give a talk with slides about our 30 years here, and talk about the book. The following Thursday (June 17), I'll be the guest author on our Chuckanut Radio Hour, which we'll record in the beer garden at Boundary Bay Brewery. They're making an anniversary ale for us as well. Finally, on Sunday, June 20 (20 years exactly from the date we opened the store) we'll throw a champagne celebration."
In an interview on the locally produced TV show Experience Northwest, Robinson described It Takes a Village Books as a "combination of memories, anecdotes of 30 years in the bookstore, about getting it started, about how we came to be here in the first place." The book was published by Village Books' imprint, Chuckanut Editions, and was printed on the bookstore's Espresso Book Machine.
It Takes a Village Books is a way to "put our 30 years into a bit of a chronology and get some perspective," said Robinson. "We've also had customers regularly ask about our experiences in meeting authors and query us about different aspects of the book business."
The Fairhaven section of Bellingham was a “much different place,” with far fewer businesses, in 1979, when Robinson and his wife and business partner, Dee Robinson, first visited. The town has changed significantly over the years and so has Village Books. In 1980 the store was 1,500 square feet. After several expansions, Village Books now occupies three floors and 10,000 square feet—which doesn't include Paper Dreams, the Robinsons' card, stationery, and gift store.
Village Books' awards include "Tourism Business of the Year" from the Convention & Visitors Bureau and the designation as Whatcom County, Washington's "Community Bookshop for Browsing." The store was also honored as the 2008 Outstanding Philanthropic Small Business in Washington State. The dog friendly store, which also has a café, hosts about 250 readings a year.
In his book, Robinson talks about meeting hundreds of authors over the years, including Ivan Doig and Tom Robbins in the store's first year, and introducing and calming the stage fright of Isabelle Allende and Alice Walker at ABA conventions. Robinson also talks about his fights against censorship and his service as the founding vice president of the American Booksellers Association for Free Expression.
Highlights of Robinson's past three decades as a bookseller include "meeting and introducing President Carter at the ABA Convention the year I became [the association's] president…, spending an evening listening to, and then talking with Salman Rushdie…, and being on the board of ABA for nine years and being honored to serve as its president for two years."
The thought of telling the history of Village Books and its role in its community occurred to him relatively recently. "The idea struck me in the past couple of years, first as sort of a passing idea, and then more and more as a possibility," said Robinson, adding, "In writing the book I've gained a much deeper appreciation for what authors do. I enjoyed the process, but I don't think I'm cut out to do that all of the time."