What started as a strictly a bookstore — known as The Book Rack — in downtown Chehalis in 1969 has morphed into a one-stop shopping center for art supplies, custom framing, gifts, candy, cards, toys, jewelry, as well as a vast selection of new books at 518 N. Market Blvd., just down the block from its original site.
Though Book ‘N’ Brush now offers a wider assortment of goods and services — including weekly drawing and painting classes — the one component that hasn’t changed is the shop’s relationship with its loyal customers.
“We’re readers and we love to tell people what to read,” remarked Caitlin Felch, a voracious connoisseur of both fiction and non-fiction publications, who actively engages patrons who often aren’t sure of what they’re looking for.
Lately, she said, a growing amount of political books have been hitting the shelves, with many buyers showing an interest in authors from both sides of the aisle. As for what’s particularly hot at the moment, the Lacey native and her colleagues unanimously agreed that “Deep River,” Karl Marlantes’ debut novel, is the pick of the litter among local book enthusiasts.
“It’s very hard to get a recommendation at Barnes and Noble because there’s so much there and they don’t have nearly enough employees there to handle all the (requests),” added Felch, when commenting on the nearest B&N location in Olympia. “Here, we have generally two, three or four employees, who will give you a recommendation depending on what you’re looking for.”
As for what the younger crowd is clamoring for, fellow employee Heather Nyquist noted that historical fiction is a popular genre among adolescents and teens. Parents of children from eight to 12, on the other hand, will often purchase them graphic picture books — typically from the “Dog Man” collection and other similar novels — to get them into the habit of reading.
Specializing in Book ‘N’ Brush’s art services is Sherry Nickerson, the store manager, who in addition to serving customers with her wide-ranging knowledge of paints and colors, is also a skilled custom picture framer.
“We cover pretty much every media but sculpture” said Nickerson, while pointing out that a large number of Lewis County residents who frequent the store are two-dimensional artists who have an affinity for both acrylic and oil paints.
When asked about the types of merchandise that might help enhance the skills of a young child who shows the passion and natural ability to create art, Nickerson suggested coloring books, along with watercolor kits that could be utilized in free-form painting.
In addition, she highlighted the shop’s unique array of “funny and lovely” greeting cards that are a big hit with the clientele. The cards, she said, are curated by Beverly Hartz, who co-owns Book ‘N’ Brush with her husband, David.
The husband-and-wife duo purchased the business from former owners, Ted and Darlene Held, shortly after they moved to southwest Washington from southern California in 2005.
At the time of the acquisition, Beverly — a self described “bibliophile” — saw the opportunity of running a bookshop as a “dream come true.”
And though there are currently a number of brick-and-mortars in Centralia that sell used books, Book ‘N’ Brush remains the only independent retailer of new publications in the Centralia-Chehalis area. In fact, the next closest ones, it was noted, are in Olympia and Castle Rock in Cowlitz County.
When broaching the possibility of hard-copy books increasingly falling out of favor with younger generations and how that might affect Book ‘N’ Brush down the road, Felch surmised that there will always be a market for people who collect books as keepsakes even after they’re done reading them.
“The people who go into a bookstore are the ones who think that digital media is the antithesis of the reading experience. They want the experience of the paper book,” she said about several regulars who will often ask for leatherbound or handcut editions. “A good book is something you’ll remember and possibly go back to.”