Bookstore turning a page amid the pandemic

by Gayle Wilson

  • <p>CONTRIBUTED PHOTO</p><p>The owners of LaHave River Books, Gael Watson (left) and Andra White, have continued to operate the Lunenburg County bookstore and expanded its services amid the COVID-19 pandemic.</p>

Amid the worn timbers of a renovated 1896 river-side building on Lunenburg County's Highway 331 that once housed a ship outfitter and a fish plant, LaHave River Books has been an antiquated harbour of homeyness embracing readers from near and far.

And while many other businesses have simply battened their doors shut against the COVID -19 pandemic's ongoing health restrictions, LaHave River Books has served as a lifeline for book lovers looking for an escape into imagination or education.

It's for that reason that the store, which abuts the famous LaHave Bakery and is jointly owned by Gael Watson and Andra White, was nominated under the Shine On campaign.

"This superior store, with its beautiful view, its special selection of new and pre-used volumes and its friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable staff, continues to serve our community despite the current restrictions. Like the LaHave Bakery on the floor above, it also provides curbside service during the pandemic-feeding our brains," Syr Russ explained in nominating the company.

LighthouseNOW and its parent company, Advocate Media Inc., floated the Shine On campaign a few weeks ago with the aim of shining a light on outstanding businesses in Lunenburg and Queens counties that are making a difference in their communities during these trying times. The businesses have a chance at being highlighted in the company's newspapers, as well as winning $3,000 worth of free advertising for when the economy picks up.

As Russ pointed out in nominating LaHave River Books, White provides weekly updates on Facebook and through a customer e-mail list featuring books of interest. As well, she has been making weekly videos for posting on the Facebook page of the Municipality of the District of Lunenburg's recreation department.

"As a local author and an insatiable reader, I am very thankful for the continued operation of LaHave River Books. Bookstore hours are Thursdays and Fridays from 10 to 2. Order from available stock or place a special request for pick-up or delivery. There is a just-right book or books for each one of us, especially now that we have the time to truly enjoy reading," Russ added.

Readers are offered a choice between new, gently used and even free books. Typically the store would be open full-time by now, inviting customers to enjoy the books while lounging in comfy chairs or having tea at a long table that dates back to the 1700s and was part of the original library at Trinity College. Or while sitting on the nearby dock on the river.

According to White, for many of their customers the bookstore itself is as much as a draw as the books it sells. They can still come in, albeit within the reduced hours, a couple of people at a time, and while maintaining social distancing. There's hand sanitizer by the Lunenburg distillery company, Ironworks, available for use.

The owners don't require that customers wear masks, but some do.

"Everybody seems aware of what they need to do for their own comfort level," White told LighthouseNOW.

However, the regular Thursday evening book readings and launches have been scuttled for now, and likely for a while. "Probably not at all this year; I can't imagine, because we usually get about 30 people, 15 to 30 people in that little space," said White.

For those customers who can't or won't venture into the store, there's curbside pick up, as well as some delivery, or distribution by post.

"Say it's that birthday present for somebody out of province and they want us to mail it for them. Put a birthday card together, that sort of thing. Just going the extra mile for people because we want to.," said White.

The bookstore's owners also have buoyed its service by introducing payment by e-transfer, a dramatic lurch forward for the business that previously gently reminded customers their laptops and other electronic devises typically were not welcomed in the historical and serene premises.

"We take the slow boat," admitted White, adding, " But the e-transfer, we really liked getting that up and running."

White expects many of these additional services will carry on, post-pandemic. "Because I think it's fun. I love our little post office, and it's fun getting books packaged up and sending them out.

"And if it's a gift for somebody it's really nice just doing that extra little bit. It just makes it easier for the customer too," she said.

Anyone wanting to nominate a business in the Shine On campaign can do so by connecting with the Shine On link at the top of this newspaper's website at: https://lighthousenow.ca , or by mailing a handwritten nomination with the business's name, as well as the nominator's name, email address, phone number and reason for the nomination. People can also nominate their own business.

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