A Greek immigrant with a love of books and a degree in engineering, Jim Roumbos decided to open Miles Books in downtown Highland in 1986. Since then big chain stores like Borders went bankrupt and closed their doors, but Roumbos remains open.
“My dad, who at the time, couldn’t speak English and worked 70 hours in the mill, used to take me to the library so I could check out books,” says Roumbos who grew up in Gary but has called Highland his home for the last 40 years. “Being in the book business, I love talking to people and finding out their interests and hearing their stories.”
Over the years, he’s heard a lot of tales of Highland and so several years ago, he approached Dan Helpingstine, a frequent customer, about writing a book about the history of the town.
“Dan has written a number of books and we’ve had book signings for him here,” says Roumbos. “So I said hey, Dan, you should write about Highland. I have lots of people asking for books about the town.”
In turn, Helpingstine, author of such non-fiction books as South Side Hitmen: The Story of the 1977 Chicago White Sox, Chicago White Sox: 1959 and Beyond and The Cubs and the White Sox: A Baseball Rivalry, 1900 to the Present, suggested Roumbos write the book. Finally, they decided to co-author Highland (Arcadia Publishing $21.99) which was published last December.
Part of publisher’s Images of America series, the book chronicles Highland’s history through images and captions.
“Dan did the majority of the text and I did text and caption editing as well as the full editing and technical work for the photos,” says Roumbos.
The majority of the 181 photographs in the books were from the archives of the Highland Historical Society and the rest provided by individuals.
While many writers often fail in their attempts to find a publisher, that wasn’t the case with Highland.
“Because Dan had written other books for Arcadia and they knew his work, all we did was fill out the application and within 30 minutes had the okay to go ahead,” says Roumbos.
The process slowed considerably and it took them about four years to complete the book. But their shared background, was an immense help. Like Roumbos, Helpingstine grew up in another city—Hammond—but has lived in Highland for three decades.
“The book starts off in the late 1800s and we did a chronological pictorial, with captions, ending up with a chapter on memories throughout the years,” says Roumbos. “The last photo in the book shows the fireworks at Main Square Park for New Year’s Day at midnight. The photograph itself is from the early 1960s. The book embodies what Highland is, why people want to come to Highland and how welcoming it is. New residents come and they assimilate and Highland stays the same—a place offering a great town experience, one that is safe, friendly, charming with an emphasis on the arts. The police and fire department are wonderful and the elected officials are motivated to make Highland better but still keep it as a place that people love and want to maintain.”
When asked if he could choose a favorite photo and text, Roumbos pauses to think about it and then says it’s the photo of President Calvin Coolidge speaking in Wicker Park.
“It was a big deal,” says Roumbos. “We had another president who spoke at Wicker Park and that was Barack Obama. That says something about Highland.”
Roumbos, a story teller at heart, likes to emphasize how independent bookstores reflect the values of the town. He’s always one to share a cup of coffee and talk about whatever subject a person is interested in. And this summer, he was able to add one more tale to his repertoire.
“About two years ago a young Purdue student came into the store, she was studying to become a civil engineer and she met a guy here and they started dating and they’d often meet here on Friday nights,” he says. “Last December, he comes up to me and says he’s going to propose to her and I say that’s wonderful, when, and he said in about ten minutes when she comes to the store. Last summer they walked in, she was wearing her wedding dress they’d just gotten married in Lansing and were stopping by between the wedding and the reception to say hi.”
What: Book signing with Jim Roumbos and Dan Helpingstine authors of Highland.
When: Saturday, November 10, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Where: 2819 Jewett Ave., Highland, IN
FYI: 219-828-8700; facebook.com/milesstore