“With the rationale that we had been ‘working’ in volunteer roles for free anyway, I suggested to my husband that we had the skills and our own cheap labour, so we could likely keep the store a vital part of our town without completely depleting our retirement savings.”
Lighthouse Books has been a fixture in Brighton, ON for at least 25 years. Its name came from the town's iconic structure—a historically significant, intact lighthouse at the tip of nearby Presqu'ile Park. We spoke with Kathryn Corbett, store owner, about becoming an independent bookseller, the books she loves to sell, and her hopes for the store’s future.
Can you tell us how you came to be at the helm of the store?
When we moved to Brighton in 2006, I was pleased to discover that the town had an independent bookstore. I became a regular customer. At that time, I was finishing a long and rewarding career as an elementary school teacher-librarian. My background also included part-time work at WH Smith Books while studying English Literature at the University of Toronto. My husband, also an avid reader, had retired from his role as a franchise dealer in the lumber business. By 2014, I had also retired. We spent our time traveling and in various volunteer jobs.
One day, as I browsed in Lighthouse Books, I overheard the owner telling someone that their lease was up and, after almost 20 years at the helm, they wanted to get out of the business but could not find a buyer. They had decided to close up shop. With the rationale that we had been “working” in volunteer roles for free anyway, I suggested to my husband that we had the skills (his retail experience and our combined love of books) and our own cheap labour, so we could likely keep the store a vital part of our town without completely depleting our retirement savings. In February 2016 we became the new owners.
What can readers expect from your shelves? How do you decide which books to stock?
I like to think of our store as a “general” bookstore, where just about anyone who walks in will find something to their tastes. It pleases me to have one customer picking up a sweet book for a baby shower and the very next looking for Cormac McCarthy. (We try not to mix them up.)
We do have a small classics section but otherwise lean heavily to stocking recent releases, including those from bestseller lists and publisher recommendations. I also read a ton of book reviews. Many, but not all, of the reviews come from Canadian sources, so we do favour Canadian authors. Deciding what not to bring in is the trickiest part, since so many books sound great to me when I read their synopses. Invariably, the day after I choose not to include a title in an order, someone comes in to ask about it! Of course, we welcome special orders and I often use those customer choices as worthy ideas to add to orders for our store stock.
Historical fiction, mystery series, and children's books are all big sellers in our store. They take up a fair amount of shelf space, as opposed to our humour “section,” which has sadly only been allocated one shelf. We're just not that funny. We have two shelves for sports indicating that we are only slightly more athletic.
We also have a Local Interest area. Local, self-published authors are welcome to bring in their books on consignment. We display them alongside books from mainstream publishers that are set in our region. (Our “locals” include Jane Urquhart and Al Purdy, for example, so they are in good company!)
Can you tell us about some of the ways you foster a sense of community with local readers?
Our community involvement takes on many faces. We partner with our library and other community groups on hosting author events. We encourage the many book clubs in town to come to us for reading suggestions and sourcing books, and then we listen to their members' joyous comments (or complaints) about book choices. We donate to many local charities and fundraising initiatives. We also have fun taking part in Brighton's annual Applefest Parade!
We’d love to hear a bit about your team. What is your “store family” like?
We have a small but mighty team. Besides my husband and me, we have the good fortune to have two highly overqualified book lovers to hold down the fort when we're not there. Grace had worked at the store for many years before we took over. Her quiet competence reassures the many loyal customers that all will be well. Deb joined us more recently and jumps right into our lively book discussions when not attempting to keep us organized. Off-site, my reading family is a constant source of book reviews and suggestions. My sons, daughters-in-law, and grandchildren all act as valued consultants.
We often hear about new/forthcoming books, but I’d love to know: what are some of the tried-and-true backlist titles that you love to sell?
Backlist titles I still like to sell include: A Town Called Solace by Mary Lawson; Indians on Vacation by Thomas King; Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce; The Book of Eels by Patrik Svensson; Where Is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek; The Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle and Jill McElmurry; and Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames.
What is your vision for the store’s future?
In the future, when we eventually retire again, I hope some resilient, enthusiastic book lover will come forward so that we can pass the torch and keep an independent bookstore in our community. Matching readers and books is such a rewarding vocation. I wish that for our successor.