A book store returns to Vashon Center

Mel Michaels and Lisa Stuhley are hard at work, preparing Stranger Than Fiction for Friday, its opening day. - Susan Riemer/staff photo
Mel Michaels and Lisa Stuhley are hard at work, preparing Stranger Than Fiction for Friday, its opening day.
— image credit: Susan Riemer/staff photo

History is coming full circle at the Old Fuller Store at Vashon Center.

Years ago, long before Reliable Wines was housed in the white clapboard structure, books lined the shelves of the historic building. The wine shop closed this fall, but a book shop is now rising in its place.

Islander Mel Michaels is opening Stranger Than Fiction on Friday, where he will sell quality new and used books, including a large poetry section, literary magazines, rare books and books for young kids and teens — replete, he said, with the best graphic novels out there.

“This has been a dream of mine since age 12,” he said.

Michaels, who is assisted in this venture by his partner Lisa Stuhley, believes shopping at a book store should be an experience — something not available at — and to that end, the duo say they have big plans.

In addition to books and magazines, they intend to offer local arts and crafts. They plan to display cutting boards made by Islander Ralph Moore in the cooking section, for example, and Zena McCoy’s seed jewelry in the craft or agriculture section, thereby supporting local artists and offering the store’s customers options that would complement a book and create a nice gift package — for themselves or someone else.

The cozy common areas and Macrina’s empty space will allow them to host events: poetry readings, open mics, workshops, First Friday art walks, intuitive readings and kids’ story hours, to name a few. They are planning for comfortable seating, complete with coffee and tea from their Vashon Island Coffee Roasterie neighbors, in the common space near the gas fireplace, and outside on their north facing porch, they will have outdoor furniture and good lighting, Michaels said, with the idea that people will find a good book and linger awhile.

Michaels’ history has been leading him in this direction for a long time. He has an undergraduate degree in literature from Evergreen State College and a master’s of fine arts in creative writing from Goddard College, and he has been in the book business for more than a decade.

“I’ve pretty much worked at every book store in Washington state,” he said with a laugh. Although surely he has missed a few, he as worked for several, including for more than six years at Borders and for a time at Elliot Bay Books in Seattle’s Pioneer Square.

“That’s where most of my inspiration comes from,” he said of the iconic book store.

An avid reader, Michaels noted that Borders does not necessarily hire readers to staff its stores.

“When I started working at Borders, I realized I could do better,” he said. “I know books, and I know what readers want.”

Michaels’ memory is nearly photographic when it comes to books, and he and Stuhley joke that it is nearly impossible to stump him. Hold up even the back of a book, Stuhley said, and he will guess it nearly every time.

“It’s eery,” she added.

Hearing this story, a visitor at the store fished into a box and pulled out a book at random, showing Michaels only its white and and tan back cover.

“Ariel Gore,” Michaels said, knowing the book’s author instantly from across the room.

Though the couple intend to sell books for people of many interests, their commitment to good books — literature — is firm.

“I will only sell quality literature,” Michaels said. “If you go to the supermarket and can get it next to the meat section, you won’t find it here.”

Michaels and Stuhley seem unfazed to be opening this business during a time of economic decline.

“Books are cheap. It’s an easy buy,” Michaels said. “You can come in and get a quality book for $6.95.”

Stuhley agreed. When the economy is down, she said, people may want to stay home and read a good book. “Or they can come here and curl up by our fire,” she added.

But Michaels is concerned about the decline in reading in this country’s youth. While information and people’s access to it is growing exponentially with recent technology, reading is decreasing in the 15 to 24 age group, he said.

“Reading is essential,” he stressed. “Not only does reading increase our understanding of life outside our own, reading increases our memory, our imagination, of course, and our intellectual abilities.”

Sitting on a couch and watching reality shows on TV cannot do the same thing, he noted.

“A book can change your life,” he said. “How often do you hear that about Rock of Love on VH1?”

Days before the store’s opening, a banned books table was already set up, and Michaels said he hopes to have a banned books reading group with teens and a “Socrates Café” with plenty of “intellectual banter.”

Looking forward to the lazy days of summer, Michaels and Stuhley hope to hold a Wine and Rhyme Festival in the large yard in the back, with poets reading all day and local vintners selling their wine.

Poetry festivals, banned books, deck chairs for reading, it’s all part of larger plan.

“My goal is to revolutionize and revitalize the art of reading,” Michaels said.

Stranger Than Fiction

Phone: 408-7268

Address: 19603 Vashon Hwy. S.W.

Hours: 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays.

The store welcomes inquiries and special orders.

Artists and crafters are also encouraged to call for more information about selling items at the store.

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