Never say booksellers lack a sense of humour. Not in Nova Scotia, at least. As you approach the homey and bright Lunenburg Bound bookstore on Montague Street, across from the Lunenburg School of Arts, you’re greeted by a sandwich board sign. In another tourist town, or another bibliophile’s paradise, it might boast of vast collections of first-editions or the authors’ autograph signings planned for the coming weeks. Not here. In its place, a proud declaration is scrawled in chalk: “Arguably the third-best bookstore in Lunenburg.” Fitting, given there are three, and three alone, in the historic seaside town—all found within the same city block.
For the town’s tongue-in-cheek attitude, Lunenburg is serious about its books: In less distance than it takes to run a 100-metre dash—but certainly more time, or else you’re browsing for books wrong—book lovers can mull over Murakami titles at Lunenburg Bound (139 Montague Street), roam for Rankin thrillers at Elizabeth’s Books (134 Montague Street) and turn the pages of the latest Elliot Page memoir at Block Shop Books (125 Montague Street).
Lunenburg’s literary rep has grown large enough to reach the pages of The Independent and earn a place on global travel guides. All in a town of roughly 2,400 people—and not a single traffic light. How is it, then, that the three bookstores have not only managed to coexist, but to thrive in such close quarters?
Lunenburg Bound’s owner and co-manager, Michael Higgins, is characteristically modest in his answer.
“It’s a very beautiful old town, and people like to come,” he tells The Coast, sitting at his usual chair behind the cash register on a rainy Saturday morning.
Higgins’ venture into bookselling is the kind of Nova Scotia tale that seems as if it could have been plucked from the pages of an Alistair MacLeod novel: A retired boat builder and carpenter, he’d spent close to 30 years in the trade—most of it in Halifax—before realizing, upon moving to Lunenburg in 2010, that he was ready for a career change. (Working on boats, Higgins told BookNet Canada in 2018, was a “deeply romantic and financially insecure” way to earn a living. “So,” he quipped, “I thought I would be right at home selling books.”) He’d had a job offer to build boats in Bermuda, but realized he’d grown tired of the work—and didn’t particularly want to leave Nova Scotia. Instead, he opened Lunenburg Bound in 2015. It’s been at the corner of Montague and Prince Street ever since.
Competition was there from the beginning: Within the same week of Lunenburg Bound’s opening, Lexicon Books (now Block Shop Books) opened up shop in a basement unit five doors down. Led by author Jo Treggiari and illustrator Marie Sheppard, it might have been seen as a bookselling rival in other circumstances, but instead, the stores have a healthy friendship; they host monthly book clubs together and are equally liable to send customers down the road if they don’t offer a title themselves.
Elizabeth’s Books, run by Chris Webb, has been around even longer. First opened as Attic Owl Book Shop in the late 1980s, it offers a mix of new and used books, along with DVD rentals.
“I think it’d be fair to say that everybody involved had a little trepidation,” Higgins admits of the early days of operating shoulder-to-shoulder with his closest competitors. Now, he sees his bookselling peers as a boon:
“You initially think, ‘Oh, it’s a very small pie. We’re dividing it by three slices.’ But I think in many regards, we’ve created a larger pie, and then divided it—and it’s worked well.”
If you go
Make a day of it and stop for a coffee or lunch at No. 9 Coffee Bar (135 Montague Street) or the Salt Shaker Deli (124 Montague Street). The former is a must for cinnamon buns and specialty coffees. The latter offers a range of hearty fare, including salmon plates, seafood chowder, steamed mussels and thin-crust pizzas.