Follow us on Instagram!

Bookstore Spotlight: Gulf of Maine Books

03/21/2019

By Taylor McCafferty

Bookstore Spotlight: Gulf of Maine Books first appeared in Islandport Magazine, Spring 2019.

 

Beth Leonard and Gary Lawless remember the day in 1995 they moved Gulf of Maine Books to its current location on Maine Street in Brunswick. They made “Migration Day” an occasion to remember, ordering painter-style white hats with birds on them to commemorate it. Friends dispersed between the former location, also on Maine Street to the north, and the new one. Toting boxes and fixtures was lighter with many hands and high spirits. It was a celebration of a grand partnership between Leonard and Lawless, the community they had built around books, and the twenty-four years they hadn’t yet realized the business would continue to thrive. By then, both had been in the book business for years and had already been working together on Maine Street since February 1979. Though their store has changed throughout the years, the one thing that remains the same is what sets them apart from many other bookstores––their commitment to their unique identity, which has attracted customers for forty years. 

Leonard and Lawless know what they like and who their customers are. Regular Gulf of Maine customers are generally interested in literary fiction, sustainable living, organic farming, and poetry. The store has always kept sizable sections devoted to women’s studies, environmental topics, Maine books, LGBTQ books, and indigenous literature, while its poetry section is unrivaled in Maine. Lawless is to thank for that; as a poet and publisher himself, he made a commitment early on to carry small-press books. The store branched out to sell mainstream titles when it moved to its current building in order to fill the larger space. While you will find a great stock of new releases, you won’t find any books by conservative writers–– or books about the Yankees, for that matter. This bookstore reflects the owners, through and through. 

Leonard and Lawless work in a constant state of give-and-take. Duties like buying books and planning events are shared between them, and they depend on each other to retain balance in their lives outside of the bookstore. Outside work hours, Leonard has lately been spending time restoring and renovating an old family home, and Lawless volunteers much of his time. His volunteering has landed him accolades from the Maine Humanities Council. He’s also had opportunities to write abroad with Leonard by his side. Traveling, for Lawless and Leonard, is a new, more comfortable iteration of the hiking and camping they did together years ago. After working in the store for so long, having time away is essential, and well-deserved. 

When thinking about what’s ahead for the store, Leonard plans to continue along the same trajectory. “Customers would be disappointed if we stripped our character,” she says. She and Lawless’ personalities have become so firmly woven into the store that it’s hard to imagine one without the other. She adds, “We’ve been in business for over forty years; we trust our instincts.”

 

Gulf of Maine Books
134 Maine Street, Brunswick
207-729-5083 

• Established in 1979.
• Owned and operated by Beth Leonard and Gary Lawless.
• The store is dog-friendly.
• Back in 1980, in the space that is now Henry and Marty Restaurant on Maine Street in Brunswick, it was known as the alternative bookstore––before the term “independent bookstore” existed.
• Leonard and Lawless have been involved with the Common Ground Country Fair for thirty-nine years. You can find them there selling books every September.
• Lawless has published over 100 titles with his press, Blackberry Books.
• The couple live in Nobleboro in the house formerly owned by Henry Beston and Elizabeth Coatsworth, and they have two donkeys.
• A couple once got married at the bookshop because it had been the site of their first date.