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March 25, 2023

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Birdhouse bookstore opens in downtown Vancouver

New nest for readers focusing on used classics, local authors

By , Columbian staff writer
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Lucas Gubala and Sarah Summerhill recently opened Birdhouse Books on the corner of Main Street and Evergreen Boulevard.
Lucas Gubala and Sarah Summerhill recently opened Birdhouse Books on the corner of Main Street and Evergreen Boulevard. The shop's name refers to the fact the store is upstairs. Photo Gallery

Nestled above Rosemary Cafe on Main Street stands Birdhouse Bookstore, a recently opened shop filled with various books ranging from sci-fi and fantasy to classics to antique books.

Sarah Summerhill and Lucas Gubala, two recent graduates from Washington State University Vancouver, opened the bookstore in July. Following their opening, the owners have received positive feedback from community members and local officials.

Summerhill majored in English. Her love for reading has remained constant throughout her life. After graduating, Summerhill was seeking an opportunity to continue her path in the reading industry.

Like Summerhill, Gubala grew up reading science fiction, which sparked his interest in technology. He eventually went on to major in computer science but soon realized it wasn’t his true passion.

“The opportunity came to study it (computer science) in graduate school and so I did it, but I realized I just wasn’t happy and I was pursuing education for somebody else, for a piece of paper rather than for myself,” Gubala said.

Just a couple of weeks after dropping out of graduate school, the opportunity arose to open a bookstore with Summerhill. The new business partners quickly began the preparations, signed the lease and, a month and a half later, the bookstore was ready for a soft opening.

Birdhouse offers a wide selection of books but specializes in philosophy, classics, poetry, sci-fi fantasy, and antiques. Birdhouse deals in used books, with some new ones by local authors. Gubala said they’re frequently looking for new books to collect.

When asked why they chose to open a bookstore now, amid an era where technology has overtaken people’s lives, Summerhill said: “People have said print is dying for a long time and I think it’s becoming less true now than ever.”

“The same book that you’re picking up in a bookstore might be the same book someone read in the 1700s. A lot of these books are timeless and they’ve influenced people for hundreds of years,” Summerhill said.

Summerhill added that getting to interact with books is a big part of the reading experience. “To feel the pages, and smell it, is to get a very visceral experience.”

Gubala reflected on his own experience with technology, saying he’s had a Facebook account since he was 13. He noticed that people’s attention span is getting shorter. But he said while companies prioritize screen time, novels stay with you for a while.

“The success of this shop and our experience as bookstore owners cannot be quantified in terms of monetary success. It’s the people you meet along the way, and if we can get a book in the hands of somebody, that can really profoundly change them and change the course that they’re on. Then that’s a rippling impact that we have that can’t be broken down into dollars and cents,” Gubala said.

The idea to name the bookstore Birdhouse came from the setup. Summerhill says the upstairs area feels like a nest. They also received feedback from family members who vouched for the name.

Birdhouse also partners with the Phoenix Rising Art Gallery, which showcases local artists’ work. Summerhill and Gubala said they’re happy with the partnership as its complemented both businesses.

The couple had some advice for future business owners: “Put it down on the table. The worst thing that can happen is you fail, and at the end of the day that’s not bad because you can try again.”

The owners are hoping to host events such as poetry readings, book clubs, and literary events.

Columbian staff writer