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The Islander Bookshop: Community in Kodiak, Alaska


By Zoe Perzo

The Islander Bookshop in Kodiak, Alaska, recently expanded from their initial 800 sq ft location into a 3,000 sq ft space in the brand new Kodiak Marketplace. I spoke to The Islander Bookshop’s founder and co-owner, Melissa Haffeman, to hear about the recent expansion and what it's like to own an independent bookstore on an Alaskan island.Islander Bookshop founder and co-owner, Melissa Haffeman, holds a book and smiles.

For those of us in “the Lower 48” who may be a little less familiar with Alaska, Haffeman told me a little more about her home.

Kodiak is an island in the Gulf of Alaska (it’s also the second largest island in the United States). On the island, you’ll find the city of Kodiak, home to about 5,000 people and the country’s largest Coast Guard base. There are also several outlying villages on the island. 

“There's such a sense of community in Kodiak,” said Haffeman. “There's something different here. I don't know if it's because we live on an island so far out here, where the weather is intense and you sometimes can't fly out of here for two weeks. And you can't drive out, you have to take a 12-hour ferry ride. I think that does something to our community.”

Haffeman went into business in order to fulfill her father’s dream. She and her dad had always discussed opening a business, but had never quite gotten around to it. When his health started to decline in early 2019, she quit her job to look after him and he urged her to pursue their dream. 

“I chose a bookstore because our island didn't have one.” Haffeman explained. “Our island has these great memories of the two bookstores that had been here in the past, but the last one had closed right when all those indies were closing, and there hadn't been one since.”

The Islander Bookshop first opened in November 2019. Right before Covid.

“I thought well, I really wish I could have known that was coming.” Haffeman laughed.

She understandably thought the business would go down immediately, but the community rallied. 

“The town put together grants,” she said, “and they purchased on Friends around the country purchased on It was enough to keep the little bookstore going.”

Kodiak’s unwavering support has allowed The Islander Bookshop to significantly expand. When the Kodiak Area Native Association (KANA) built the new Kodiak Marketplace (an expansive indoor mall), they chose to fill it with local business rather than chains. So, The Islander Bookshop moved into a brand new 3,000 square foot space. 

“We only had one month to [move in]. One month from when we got keys to when we opened. The staff had been working till 10 o'clock at night, and I had called in all the favors from my friends,” Haffeman laughed. “They don't want me to ask anything for a while.”

Though it was a bit of a scramble to get set up, the move was worth it. On November 11, 2023, The Islander Bookshop hosted their grand opening party. 

“It was kind of my way of thanking my community and my friends and staff for all that they've done.” Haffeman said. 

You can find a video of the before, after, and the beautiful reopening on The Islander Bookshop’s website. 

Just as the community has supported them, The Islander Bookshop supports their community. They participate in programs like the Kodiak Kindness Project, which provides a full range of services to support families through their baby's first year. Every baby born in the community gets a welcome package from Kodiak Kindness, and every package includes a copy of Goodnight Moon from The Islander Bookshop.

I spoke to Haffeman just before the holidays, when she was preparing for a new partnership — and the coolest local tradition I’ve ever heard of. 

“The Coast Guard community is really important in our town,” Haffeman explained, “and they take the rescue helicopters, and they fly to all the villages — villages have anywhere from 20–150 people. Santa rides in the helicopter and delivers gifts to all the kids.”

And for the 2023 holiday season, The Islander Bookshop donated a book for every single kid. 

Throughout my conversation with Melissa Haffeman, there was one thing that was very clear: she has so much respect and appreciation for her community and for her staff. 

“The staff has really done so much to get us here. I've been getting a lot of congratulations as the face of the bookstore,” she told me, “but it's the staff who worked really hard. It’s not one person, it's an entire team.

“I'm also incredibly grateful that KANA chose local small businesses when they could have gone with off-island businesses. They took a chance on us. They let us expand, they gave us an absolutely beautiful building. And it wasn't just me, they did it with all of us [local businesses].”

Though her decision to open a bookstore rather than another type of business was a logical one, Haffeman couldn’t be happier with that decision. For anyone else interested in bookselling, she said:

“There's no better brick-and-mortar business to get into than an indie bookstore. It won't make you rich, but it is incredibly fulfilling. And you can't discount just how much a bookstore means to a town and it is 100% worth it.”

If you find yourself in Kodiak, Alaska, make a stop at The Islander Bookshop! Or, if you prefer to support them from afar, you can find them on