LANGLEY, Island County – Whidbey Island has always been a favorite getaway for Seattle residents looking for a quiet long weekend. But many long-time Whidbey visitors have no idea just how big Whidbey Island actually is. Tourists arriving by ferry from Mukilteo often stay in the south of the island, near the town of Clinton, while those traveling via Deception Pass are likely to stay north in the Oak Harbor area.
But it takes over an hour to drive from one end of Whidbey to the other. The island is vast, and even frequent travelers can discover new towns, parks, and shops to explore if they get a little lost.
About 51 years ago, a newly married couple named Glenn and Josh Hauser got lost on Whidbey hoping they could find their next adventure. Glenn was a retired military pilot. “I picked him up at a drive-thru in Corpus Christi, Texas,” laughs Josh. She explains, “We came up with the idea of flipping houses here before people ever flipped houses.”
Camped at Deception Pass, the pair made their way south, where they stumbled upon an empty storefront in the tiny town of Langley, near the center of the island. “We didn’t have any experience with books, but we decided that we both loved reading,” says Josh, and they decided to try the book trade.
For research, the pair interviewed the owner of the defunct, popular University Village bookstore Kay’s Bookmark and a few other book industry professionals. Glenn removed the furnishings and the couple got to work decorating and stocking the shelves with books. They decided to name their shop Moonraker Books (after the tall square sail on a large sailboat, not the James Bond novel) and impulsively decided to open the doors and celebrate their grand opening on June 16, 1972. “And the rest was just the most amazing adventure imaginable,” says Josh.
Moonraker Books is one of Washington state’s longest-running bookstores, and its appeal is obvious: It’s a bright, beautiful, well-stocked shop on Main Street in Langley, a charming town that essentially grew around the bookstore Center.
It didn’t take long for Josh to realize that book retailing 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 also like to be around book people.”
The Hausers ran the store together until Glenn’s death in 2012. “I wish I could bring him back from the dead to fix some things at the store,” says Josh, “but he’s terribly uncooperative.”
Josh still holds court behind the counter at Moonraker, flirting, joking, gossiping and encouraging newcomers to make sure to check out the store’s massive second floor with its extensive fiction and children’s sections. Playful displays up there collect a variety of books on ‘Women We Wish We Met – Some Real, Some Fictional’ and ‘Books for the Wannabe Francophiles’ filmed in Paris. Locals and returning tourists alike drop by to check out the latest releases and ask for recommendations from the store’s five employees.
“It’s a very cozy place. This isn’t a silent bookstore that we’re in,” explains Josh. “We don’t talk in whispers.” It’s true: Moonraker is no silent cathedral of literature. Laughter and conversation echo through the store. Strangers break into impromptu discussions about cookbooks on display, sharing recipes and stories.
Fifty years in the book trade is a rare achievement, and Josh has been recognized again this year for services to Langley and the book trade. The Langley Mayor and City Council have officially designated June as Josh Hauser Appreciation Month, with a huge party and citywide celebration for Josh and her bookstore.
And this month, the Washington Trust for Historic Preservation presented Josh with its first-ever Legacy on Main Street Award. Washington Main Street executive Breanne Durham credited Josh as Langley’s “welcome car, a small business mentor, a person of joy who doesn’t take things too seriously.”
Josh “created impromptu social groups to work with other traders to welcome new people to town, and probably just for fun,” Durham said in her awards speech.
For his part, Josh credits the people at Langley for the success of Moonraker. “I couldn’t live without my local people,” she says. “They take the time to buy from me instead of the big boxes or the other guys.”
Josh says the how-to section of books on woodworking and other crafts has shrunk over the past decade, but she’s pleased to see demand for cookbooks has increased over the same period. She says Whidbey writers, including poet David Whyte, drop in often. The store prides itself on stocking a wide selection of local authors, ranging in subject matter from beginner’s geology guides to odes to the art of hiking.
Ask Josh about her fondest memories from her half-century in the book trade and her voice warms. She says she now understands the humor behind the dubious accolade that Moonraker had its first shoplifter before the store even opened when a woman with a backpack walked in and helped herself while she and Glenn were busy expanding the store. She remembers the midnight Harry Potter release parties and the store’s Halloween celebrations. She loves that kids she once helped choose books are now bringing their kids and grandkids 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. It brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it, my love.”
What are Moonraker Books customers reading?
Unlike most independent bookstores, which traditionally reserve the purchase of books for one or two employees, each individual bookseller at Moonraker Books buys stock for the store, giving them a proud ownership that shows in the store’s curation.
All five Moonraker booksellers came together to email their recommendations as a team, beginning with “Two Must-Have Guides to Whidbey” highlighting Island County’s “History, Geology, Sustainability and Joy”: “Wandering in the Closer to Home: Whidbey, Hidalgo and the Guemes Islands by Maribeth Crandall and Jack Hartt and Getting to the Water’s Edge on Whidbey & Camano Islands.
Whidbey poetry lovers rave about “The Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems,” and booksellers say that “any collection by the revered Whidbey poet, David Whyte or Judith Adams,” is a consistent bestseller.
Book after book is a big seller at Moonraker, with Grant Snider’s collection of literal 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 say Nina Totenberg’s memoir Dinners With Ruth has proven to be “a must-read for RBG fans and anyone who’s enjoyed Totenberg’s coverage of the Supreme Court.”
Finally, the staff fondly notes that Moonraker owner Josh Hauser has had Gerald Durrell’s 1956 Corfu memoir, “My Family and Other Animals,” as a special selection “on her staff selection shelf for as long as anyone can remember.” To order this and other titles, customers should visit Moonraker’s Bookshop page or call the store at 360-221-6962.