A 'bittersweet' ending to venerable bookshop's story

With its owner dead and the building sold, the race is on to empty the shelves of a decades-old bookstore in Carleton Place, Ont.

The call has gone out across the region — stacks upon stacks of titles at The Book Gallery on Lake Avenue W. are free to anyone who will come to take them away, and they have to be gone by June.

'It's bittersweet. I've been here so long, it's part of who I am.' - Bev Pearman

A handwritten note affixed to the shop's door last week read: "Books are free but in lieu of payment a cash donation at your discretion is appreciated. Thanks."

Inside the dark Victorian building, its rooms stacked to the ceiling with books, was a literal free-for-all.

"If I'd known this place had existed beforehand, I'd have been happy to buy from it while it was still in business," said Justin Wilson, clutching a birding book. "So it's quite unfortunate that this is happening to our used bookstores, and particularly the circumstances behind this one."

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

180K volumes

Grant Purdy started The Book Gallery in the early 1990s and moved it to the 10-room house in 2003, where its selection ballooned to what he claimed was about 180,000 volumes.

When Purdy became ill in 2018, his longtime employee, Steve Hamilton, stepped in, taking over the day-to-day business.

But the new chapter was a short one. Purdy died, and Hamilton announced in February that book sales were insufficient to keep the doors open.

Then, when Hamilton died suddenly at the end of March, the enormous task of getting rid of tens of thousands of books fell to his widow, Bev Pearman.

"This is pretty sad," said customer Kim Kelford last week, looking over her shoulder. "I've come to this store for years and years and years, and now everybody is just coming and grabbing books."

'Part of who I am'

For Pearman, the fast-approaching deadline to move the books out meant she hasn't had time to properly grieve the man she met and fell in love with in the very bookstore she's now tasked with closing.

"It's bittersweet. I've been here so long, it's part of who I am," she said. "It's the end of an era, but it's necessary, "

Worried she'd never empty the store in time, Pearman first lowered prices to $1 per book. But sales were still slow, so she decided to give the books away.

"Readers are getting books. I'm pleased at the response, but closing the doors ... is really difficult," Pearman said.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC

Boxes and bags

People armed with boxes and shopping bags soon began streaming through the dimly-lit store.

Jerry Jensen, a member of the Friends of the Canadian War Museum, packed several boxes of war writing destined for the museum into his car.

'I do find it sad, but it's nice that they're doing this.' - Molly Cooney

Chris Sergeant and Sue Davidson arrived looking for Canadiana, biographies and local milling history — anything that might sell at The Used Book Store at Watson's Mill.

"I used to come here all the time with my mom. We'd return some and get credit to buy more," said another treasure hunter, Molly Cooney.

The Queen's University drama major held a collection of works by the Norwegian playwright and poet Henrik Ibsen, a copy of The Duchess of Malfi and a bedside book of famous American stories she plans to give to her aunt.

"I do find it sad, but it's nice that they're doing this and everybody's coming to help clean up so they can get out of here."

Kayla Springer, on hands and knees, thumbed through the true crime titles, and said she remembered Hamilton as an "impressive" shopkeeper who seemed to know each and every book in his collection.

"I'm sad to see it close, but I don't think that there's a downside really to people getting their hands on books," Springer said.

Stu Mills/CBC
Stu Mills/CBC
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