At first glance, there’s not much to see in Eastport, Maine, which has a population of about 1,300. On a recent visit I ducked in and out of galleries on Water Street, the sleepy main drag, wandered the stacks of the town’s small but welcoming library, and snapped photos of mermaid and fisherman statues along the waterfront. But my favorite discovery in town was a place that claims to be America’s easternmost bookstore—and it just might be America’s coziest bookstore, too.
It’s easy to miss John Smith Books, which shares a space with Christina Gallery in a 19th-century house one block off of Water Street. Once inside, you feel like you’re stepping into someone’s home. To the right of the entryway is a comfy sitting room with two armchairs facing a crackling fire, plus a squishy leather couch covered in homemade quilts, and—of course—shelves upon shelves of books. It’s the kind of place you could imagine curling up in for hours.
Upstairs is a room nearly as inviting, with nautical prints on the walls and a table set up for Scrabble in front of another warm fireplace. The stairwell between the two floors is decorated with watercolor paintings by Christina Smith, the multitalented artist who’s also responsible for the quilts in the reading rooms and the landscape artwork in the gallery beside the entrance.
Self-described “rabid readers,” Christina and her husband John have been running John Smith Books and Christina Gallery for the past eight years. Christina sews quilts and pillows, paints pictures of wildlife, and creates everything from coasters to notecards at her in-home studio—which visitors are welcome to enter if they have questions about her art.
Meanwhile, John is happy to help you find a book or to share stories about the area. His collection—which he sells mostly online—is about 95 percent used, and includes a number of rare antiquarians and first editions. You’ll find everything from Salem’s Lot by Maine native Stephen King to Audubon’s Birds of America.
The bookstore/gallery is a labor of love for the Smiths, but books and art aren’t their only passions.
“Our main business [was] the renovation of old homes,” John explains. “We would buy a derelict house and live in it while we renovated it and then sold it. Eventually we were able to purchase the house [in Eastport]. It provided plenty of room up front for a bookstore and gallery, plus a place in back for Christina’s art studio and a place for me to set up my music room for video/audio recording (I’m a blues musician).”
Though John Smith Books started as an online-only enterprise, it soon became a local gathering place.
“People started to come in, browse, sit and read, play chess or Scrabble upstairs, or I’d make them a latte and we’d just sit and chat,” says John. “Oh, and maybe I’d sell them a book.”
Eastport is about a 2.5-hour drive northeast of Bar Harbor, Maine, and a two-hour drive southwest of Saint John, New Brunswick. It’s a port of call on occasional Canada/New England sailings from cruise lines such as Hurtigruten and Blount Small Ship Adventures.
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