Baker Street Bookstore owner’s farewell in Black Diamond also a chance to celebrate a new beginning | Slideshow

Baker Street Bookstore was on the verge of closing when just days before the iconic Black Diamond business was to shut its doors a white knight rode in to save it.

Patrons gathered on Sunday to mourn its closure, celebrate the joy the business had brought to the community as well as its owner, when it was announced that Kent resident Todd Hulbert was the white knight who had purchased the business from owner Bob Charles.

Charles explained that when he made the announcement on Sunday those in attendance cheered and applauded.

The deal was sealed just days before the store was to close, Hulbert said.

Hulbert, who owns an online clothing and apparel business, said he had books but no place to put them.

“My speciality is in Internet marketing,” he said. “Books fit so beautifully into that. I wanted to get into the online book business, so, I started buying very large lots of books all up and down the West Cost.”

Charles and Hulbert were able to come to an agreement, Hulbert said, and now the store will be home to 150,000 books he’s acquired.

After months of thought, Charles said, he decided in February to close the store and made the announcement March 1.

“I had been thinking about it the past six or seven months, business had been going down because of the economy and people switching to ebooks,” Charles said. “Then on March 8 I took a tumble and fell on my back. I like to joke that the bookstore was getting even with me.”

He woke up 12 days later at Harborview Medical Center with screws and rods in his back “and a whole bunch of nurses and doctors looking at me.”

His prognosis is good, though, and he is looking forward to retirement after owning and operating the store for 17 years.

Charles started the store in the north half of the building in 1985 after looking for the right place he settled in the small community because “Black Diamond seemed like home to me.”

As the business grew, Charles explained, he eventually took over the entire building which is 3,000 square feet.

One of the features of the business that many patrons at the going away event — which Charles described as a wake but everyone else called a party — said they would miss would be the live jazz performances on Friday nights.

That began with a simple conversation, Charles said.

“About six years ago one of my good friends, Doug Ostgard, he would come in and buy books, and we were talking about music,” Charles said. “I was complaining that the only kind of music you could get out here in southeast King County was country western. Not that there’s anything wrong with country western. He asked me what kind of music I liked and I said, ‘Well, I like jazz myself.’”

It just so happens that Ostgard is a jazz musician — he’s a saxophone player — and knew quite a few jazz musicians in the area.

Pretty soon musicians were playing twice a month. Word got around among the jazz artists in the area, Charles said, and before he knew it there were three performances a month by “a whole litany of different groups and performers.”

Bob Jay, a Maple Valley resident, while perusing “The Junks and Sampans of the Yangtze” on Sunday afternoon said he would go to all the gigs on Friday nights over the years.

Fred Davis, a horn player with the group of Enumclaw musicians who performed at the beginning of the event, said “this is a great event to celebrate all the great things Bob’s done for jazz over the years.”

Maple Valley resident Ed Monger, who taught music for 30 years in the Tahoma Schools, said the free jazz performances in a corner of the bookshop were something the community enjoyed.

“People were free to drop in and listen,” Monger said. “More importantly it brings jazz musicians to the area that we ordinarily wouldn’t get to hear.”

While the music may not continue at the store, Hulbert does have plans for other ways to make customers feel at home, and the building will be his effective May 1, Charles said.

Hulbert said the plan is to close the store for 60 days in order to make a few upgrades around the shop as well as stock it with the thousands of tomes he’s purchased. The plan is to re-open under a new name, Finally Found Books, in July.

There is one, part-time employee, Hulbert said, whom he plans to retain and someday he may hire one additional part-time staff members.

Given the history of the business and the fact it’s the only bookstore within a 15-mile radius which serves not just Black Diamond, but Maple Valley, Covington and surrounding unincorporated areas, it was important to preserve it, Hulbert said.

“Bookstores are integral to any community,” Hulbert said. “Having a bookstore within any community is important. Books are so important. This particular store is an icon within the community because it’s been around so long.”

And Baker Street Bookstore can continue to be a gathering place in the era of e-readers.

“People are losing their connection to the community,” Hulbert said. “It’s important to have a place like this where you can get out and meet people, where you can enjoy yourself for a while.”

Hulbert said he wants the store to be inviting for patrons to sit down, read a book and enjoy a cup of coffee as well as a gathering place for community groups to meet, plus he plans to offer signing events with authors as well as space for artists to display and sell their works.

“We’re going to try and get local artists to bring their stuff in on consignment,” he said. “We will try to rotate it every 90 days. They have a hard time finding places to sell so here’s a new venue.”

Hulbert will also work to encourage youngsters to read by offering a free book from a special section to children under 10 as well as providing coupons to local school districts for teachers to give to students.

Charles plans to watch baseball, as much as he can of the Seattle Mariners and the Tacoma Rainiers, as well as get outdoors to fish and hike which will be easier once the back brace comes off on June 3.

“I’m a big walker, I like to go walking and hiking,” Charles said. “We live in a great part of the country to go hiking and walking, so, I’m going to take advantage of that, especially down in Enumclaw where I live.”

And he can retire knowing the bookstore will continue on.

“I was relieved that someone had come forward to continue the bookstore in Black Diamond,” Charles said. “That was one of the things I agonized over and that’s why it took me so long to make the decision. I’m just tickled pink that there’s going to be a bookstore here for the community, not just for Black Diamond… but for all of my patrons from all over the Puget Sound area, that it will still be a place where they can come and browse books.”


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