50 years of bookselling adventures at Moonraker Books

Neighborhood Reads

LANGLEY, Island County — Whidbey Island has always been a favorite getaway destination for Seattleites in search of a quiet long weekend. But many longtime Whidbey visitors fail to comprehend quite how big Whidbey Island actually is. Tourists who arrive on the ferry from Mukilteo often stay to the south of the island, near the town of Clinton, while people who drive over Deception Pass are likely to stay north, in the Oak Harbor area.

But it takes more than an hour to drive from one end of Whidbey to the other. The island is huge, and even frequent travelers can find new towns, parks and stores to explore if they allow themselves to get a little bit lost.

About 51 years ago, a pair of newlyweds named Glenn and Josh Hauser were getting lost on Whidbey in the hopes that they might find their next adventure. Glenn was a retired military pilot. “I picked him up at a drive-in restaurant in Corpus Christi, Texas,” Josh laughs. She explains, “we came up here with the idea of flipping houses before people ever flipped houses.”

The pair camped at Deception Pass and headed south, where they encountered an empty storefront in the tiny town of Langley, near the center of the island. “We had no experience with books, but we decided that what we both loved was reading,” Josh says, and they decided to give bookselling a try.

For research, the pair interviewed the owner of the late, beloved University Village bookstore Kay’s Bookmark and a few other book industry professionals. Glenn built out the fixtures and the pair set to work decorating and filling the shelves with books. They decided to name their store Moonraker Books (after the high square sail on a large sailboat, not the James Bond novel) and on June 16, 1972, they impulsively decided to throw open the doors and have their grand opening. “And the rest has been just the most wonderful adventure imaginable,” Josh says.

Moonraker Books is one of the longest-running bookstores in Washington state, and its appeal is obvious: It’s a bright, beautiful, well-appointed space on the main drag of Langley, a charming city that has essentially grown up around the bookstore at its center.

It didn’t take Josh too long to realize that bookselling is less about the books and more about building a community. “People who love books are usually interesting people,” she says. “And people not only like to be around books, they like to be around book people.”

The Hausers ran the store together until Glenn died in 2012. “I wish I could call him back from the dead to fix a few things around the store,” Josh says, “but he’s being awfully uncooperative.”

Josh still holds court behind the counter of Moonraker, flirting, joking, gossiping and urging newcomers to make sure they check out the shop’s enormous second floor, with its expansive fiction and children’s sections. Playful displays up there collect a variety of books about “Women We Wish We Met — Some Real, Some Fictional” and Paris-set “Books for the Wannabe Francophiles.” Locals and returning tourists alike visit to check out the latest releases and ask for recommendations from the store’s five-person staff.

“It’s a very congenial place. This is not a quiet bookstore we’re in,” Josh explains. “We don’t talk in whispers.” It’s true: Moonraker is no hushed cathedral to literature. Laughter and conversations echo throughout the store. Strangers break into spontaneous discussions about cookbooks on display, sharing recipes and stories.

Fifty years of bookselling is a rare accomplishment, and Josh has been repeatedly recognized for her contributions to Langley and bookselling this year. Langley’s mayor and City Council officially designated June as Josh Hauser Appreciation Month, with a huge party and citywide celebration of Josh and her bookshop.

And this month, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation presented Josh with its first-ever Legacy on Main Street Award. Washington Main Street Executive Director Breanne Durham recognized Josh as Langley’s “welcome wagon, a small business mentor, a person of joy who doesn’t take things too seriously.”

Josh “has built spontaneous social groups to work alongside other merchants, for the purpose of welcoming new people to town, and probably also just for fun,” Durham said in her award speech.

For her part, Josh credits the people of Langley for Moonraker’s success. “I couldn’t live without my locals,” she says. “They take the time to buy from me rather than from the big boxes or from the other guys.”

Josh says the how-to section, with books on woodworking and other crafts, has shrunk over the last decade, but she’s been pleased to see that demand for cookbooks has increased over the same time. She says Whidbey authors including poet David Whyte often stop by. The shop makes a point of carrying a wide selection from local writers, which range in subject from entry-level geology guides to odes to the art of walking.

Ask Josh about her favorite memories of her half-century of bookselling and her voice warms. She says she can now appreciate the humor behind the dubious distinction that Moonraker had its first shoplifter before the store even opened, when a woman with a backpack wandered in and helped herself while she and Glenn were busy building the space out. She recalls the midnight “Harry Potter” release parties, and the store’s Halloween celebrations. She loves that children she once helped pick out books are now bringing their children and grandchildren back to Moonraker for their own first books.

“I’ve had so many good moments,” she says. “Some funny, some tender — you know how it is. I’m getting teary just thinking about it, my darling.”

What are Moonraker Books customers reading?

Unlike most independent bookstores, which traditionally reserve book-buying for one or two members of the staff, every single bookseller at Moonraker Books buys stock for the store, giving them a pride of ownership that shows in the store’s curation.

All five booksellers at Moonraker gathered together to provide their recommendations as a team over email, starting with “two indispensable guides to Whidbey” that highlight the “history, geology, sustainability and delight” of Island County: “Hiking Close to Home: Whidbey, Hidalgo, and Guemes Islands” by Maribeth Crandall and Jack Hartt and “Getting to the Water’s Edge on Whidbey & Camano Islands.”

Whidbey poetry lovers have been raving over “The Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems,” and the booksellers say “any of the collections by revered Whidbey poets David Whyte or Judith Adams” are perennial bestsellers.

Books about books sell very well at Moonraker, with Grant Snider’s collection of bookish cartoons, “I Will Judge You by Your Bookshelf,” proving to be “a perfect gift for bookworms of all ages.” Current events are also in demand, and the staff says Nina Totenberg’s memoir “Dinners With Ruth,” has proved to be “a must-read for RBG fans and anyone who has enjoyed Totenberg’s coverage of the Supreme Court.”

Finally, the staff notes lovingly that Moonraker owner Josh Hauser has had Gerald Durrell’s 1956 memoir of life on Corfu, “My Family and Other Animals,” as a featured selection “on her staff pick shelf for as long as anyone can remember.” To order that and other titles, customers should visit Moonraker’s Bookshop page or call the store at 360-221-6962.

Moonraker Books

10:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sundays; 209 First St., Langley, Island County; 360-221-6962.

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