I happen to love winter, and it’s not just because I like snow. It is also because of books. When the weather is prohibitive, I have more time to explore, discover, ponder and imagine — all through the world of words. Just stepping into a bookstore fills me with stirrings of inspiration.
Here is a story of three women who turned bookish inspiration into a dream come true.
It is fitting that the three founders and co-owners of the Left Bank Bookshop in Searsport became acquainted at a place called The Fertile Mind. Theirs are three highly fertile, inquisitive and aspiring minds. Together, they have created a local haven for the exchange of ideas.
I joined Marsha Kaplan, Barbara Klausmeyer and Lindsay McGuire at their weekly breakfast meeting.
The booth where we sat was positively sparking with the energy of these women. Each has her own distinct, charismatic style — droll, self-effacing, warm — but they all exude intelligence, humor and a shared avidity for the world of books.
None of Left Bank’s owners is native to Maine. They came from California, Chicago and Connecticut, each looking for something that they thought Maine might offer.
Barbara, native to Southern California, moved to Maine with her husband in 1972. Inspired by the back-to-the-land movement of the ’70s, they found an inexpensive 25-acre farm in Swanville where they opened a home school in an old chicken barn. In the early ’80s Barbara got a job at The Fertile Mind bookstore in Belfast.
Lindsay and her husband lived in Chicago when they decided on a shift — more rural and east. The relaxed, open-door hospitality of tiny Belfast in 1984 captured their fancy. Plus, she was happy to find some familiar niceties.
“They have Crabtree & Evelyn avocado soap! I can live here,” she recounted with a twinkle in her eye.
When her husband retired, Marsha told me, they moved from Connecticut to Maine “never having spent more than a week here!” In fact, they had spent a week of every summer here for many years. While their friends looked south for retirement, they couldn’t think of any place they would rather be than Belfast.
All three women were used to busy lives of work and intellectual challenge. It was natural for them to gravitate toward the local bookstore, where Barbara had become the manager, and Lindsay and Marsha took jobs.
The idea to strike out on their own was an evolution. They shared and compared ideas and dreams, and discovered their common ground when it came to books. Barbara considered buying The Fertile Mind, or opening her own store, but it seemed impossible.
“What if you don’t have to do it alone?” Lindsay asked. That was when their excitement began. With three of them working together, they could make their dreams a reality.
It was nine months of labor that finally gave birth to Left Bank Books in 2004. Barbara discovered the Searsport storefront — a 19th century bank building, charming brickwork, mansard roof, cozy interior space. It was perfect.
Left Bank Books has become a local destination.
“I feel like I’m in a bar here,” said one customer, which is true except that kids and dogs are welcome. It is a neighborhood haunt where everyone knows each other.
And it’s a lot more than books. There are free “winter lyceum” lectures and visiting author events.
Renowned writers such as David McCullough, Kate Braestrup and Richard Russo have done book signings at Left Bank Books. Authors love the personal attention and intimate setting of this cozy but exuberant book shop.
More than anything, it is the clientele that have become the most gratifying aspect of the bookshop for these three bookwomen.
“You connect with people so fast and deeply … It is so satisfying,” they told me with enthusiasm. “You never know who’s going to walk through the door.”
And you never know what might happen when three fertile minds converge in a small town in Maine.
Robin Clifford Wood is happy to receive suggestions and feedback at <a href=”mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org”>email@example.com</a>
, or through her blog The Sunrise Blogger at http://thesunriseblogger.blogspot.com.