It’s been three years since Lexicon Books opened its doors in picturesque Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, a town best known for its tall ships and colonial architecture. Through trial and error, Lexicon’s co-owners – poet Alice Burdick, children’s illustrator Anne-Marie Sheppard, and author Jo Treggiari – have found a winning formula that balances the book-buying needs of local residents with those of the town’s thriving tourism industry. Burdick spoke to Q&Q about running a small-town bookshop.
How do you make decisions about what to stock? Jo and I mostly determine that because we’re physically in the store the most. It definitely depends on the time of year. We tend to get one or two copies of a title and try to keep ordering low as we have a tiny space. I’m sure there are smaller spaces, but it’s 500 square feet without storage.
We try to keep it eclectic. There will be some bestsellers, but I really enjoy getting in books that are unique. Anik See’s Saudade from Coach House Books is this wonderful, tiny book, and one of my favourites. I’ve sold so many of them. When we have a special interest in a book, we’ll bring it in and we can sell it because we’re so enthusiastic, even if it’s not a so-called hot title.
We try to keep a nice balance of Canadian small presses, American presses, and the larger publishers. We discovered that we don’t have to have books we really don’t want in the store – we’ll order those titles in for someone, but usually they can find them at Costco or the grocery store, and at a margin we can’t afford to sell them for.
Have there been any surprise bestsellers? We barely had a local-interest section when we opened because you can find local titles pretty much anywhere, at any small-town gift shop. But we realized that when we do have them in, they sell constantly, so it’s become a larger proportion of our stock. That includes guides to local flora and fauna, travel stuff, a lot of local history and biographies. Little waterproof guides to things like local mushrooms do really well.
What doesn’t sell? We experienced the flip side of the colouring book craze. We really wanted to avoid colouring books, but people kept asking for them. And then we were stuck with copies, which was so annoying because we didn’t want them there in the first place. We learned not to order too many “non-book” books.
What else have you learned? When we opened we only had fiction and non-fiction sections. But as we got more titles, we refined it to include other categories like genre fiction. Our science and nature and mathematics sections have grown a lot; so has music. Memoirs have shrunk. There are a lot of variations and we try to move with it as best we can.
I think we have a solid understanding of what people want, but we pay attention to trends and phases and seasonal interests. We have a really good system to see what books are selling and adjust as we go. People come in and say they love the bookstore’s curation. They are happy browsing and discovering titles they haven’t found elsewhere, or new things they haven’t seen yet, so I feel like we’re making some solid choices.