Nova Scotia

Lunenburg booksellers hoping to bring back reading

Lexicon Books in Lunenburg has been open one month, but don't tell the three female partners who put up their cash to open the independent book and online store that reading is on the way out.

"Independent bookstores have seen a resurgence, they've seen a 25 per cent growth since 2009"

Alice Burdick, co-owner of Lexicon Books in Lunenburg. (CBC)

Lexicon Books in Lunenburg has been open one month, but don't tell the three partners who put up their cash to open the independent book and online store that reading is on the way out.

"We went into this with our eyes wide-open," says co-owner Alice Burdick from the small store's location below ground in a heritage building with exposed beams and comfy chairs.

"We've done research about the viability of bookstores knowing that if we selected carefully and curated well, we would have a good place for people to come and find the books that they want," she said.

All three women share a passion for books. Jo Treggiari is a best-selling author of young adult fiction, Burdick has published three volumes of poetry and Anne-Marie Sheppard is a lawyer and aspiring  illustrator.

But they aren't banking on their love of books, or their children whom they're trying to keep supplied with hard-to-find books for middle-graders.

Instead they are counting on recently published figures for North America that suggest after numerous closures in the wake of Amazon.com and boxstores, the tide may be starting to turn.

"Independent bookstores have seen a resurgence, they've seen a 25 per cent growth since 2009," notes Treggiari. "And  we love books so opening the store  just seemed a natural fit."

The owners of Lexicon books are counting on recently published figures for North America that suggest after numerous closures in the wake of Amazon.com and boxstores, the tide may be starting to turn. (CBC)

"We've always thought of a bookstore as a community hub, a way to connect with other readers," said Sheppard.

"One of the reasons I was so passionate about becoming involved with the bookstore was the decline of school libraries. There's been a lot less funding for school libraries but kids are still reading books so I'm really keen on nurturing that and getting kids to read."

Lexicon's partners are quick to quash the idea that just because young people are plugged into their phones, they aren't reading.

Treggiari quotes publishing statistics showing young adult books are the fastest growing segment of the business, and yes, a lot of that reading is happening on the internet.

That is why Lexicon is offering its customers an online store open 24 /7 as well as a bricks-and- mortar browsing experience.

"People are still not cuddling around a Kindle reading children's books," says Sheppard. "That's family time and they are definitely using physical books. But we have also had a lot of feedback from adults.There are some titles they like to read on an e-reader when travelling and others they like to read in a physical format."

Even though Lexicon has been open only five weeks, there is an even newer bookstore that has opened on the same block.

That brings the total of new and used bookstores on the same Lunenburg street to three.

The competition doesn't faze Burdick.

"I think it's a great thing, the more the merrier," she said. "We're all very different. We are exclusively new books, so it's a different kind of store from the other two on the same street."

Half a dozen doors down on Montague Street, Lunenburg Bound sells a mixture of old and new books, with a focus on the sea and sailing.

Catalyst for visitors

Owner Michael Higgins is a former boatbuilder turned bookseller, a man who confesses to being an incurable romantic when it comes to career choices.

He agrees the cluster of stores could act as a catalyst for visitors, as restaurants have done for other parts of the UNESCO World Heritage town.

"There has been positive feedback from people who have come from Chester and Bridgewater and said  because there were three bookstores, they were happy to come and make a day of it," Higgins said. "We all have a unique focus."

The oldest established bookseller, Elizabeth's Store, opens mostly in the evenings and sells a jumble of old and used books.

Lexicon is open seven days a week, has a book club for teens and hosts public readings weekly.

The women aren't concerned that the U.S. chain Borders closed or that Chapters has branched into housewares to prop up its book sales.

They figure Lexicon's biggest challenge will  be the same as other retailers on the South Shore, finding a model where they can operate successfully year-round. 

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