Munro’s Books cited as one of world’s best bookstores

Munro’s Books, a Government Street staple for 32 years and a going concern downtown since 1963, has been singled out by National Geographic as a must-see destination for book lovers.

National Geographic’s book, Destinations of a Lifetime, has ranked Munro’s as the No. 3 bookshop in the world in a list of the top-10 that includes entries from China, Greece, Argentina and Australia.

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“It isn’t the first best-of list we’ve been on ... we do pop up on lists of the world’s most beautiful book stores because it is a striking building and a lovely showcase for the books inside,” said Munro’s managing partner Jessica Walker.

But Walker points out that National Geographic is a premier publisher of travel magazines and guides. “They are a pretty big name in the field of discovering cool places. It’s lovely and we try to take it as a compliment,” she said.

Walker said global exposure like this acts as both a reminder to local residents of the unique features in the city, and as another reason for visitors to travel to Victoria.

“People love to come from all over the world,” Walker said, adding they often hear tourists talking about the experience and bemoaning the fact they no longer have book stores in their own towns.

“Victoria and the whole south Island is a fantastic book lover’s destination,” Walker said. “We are able to give a unique experience.”

In the story on its website, National Geographic notes that “in 1963, exactly a half century before she won the Nobel Prize in literature, Alice Munro co-founded a bookstore with her then-husband, Jim. Munro’s has since moved into a magnificent, neoclassical former bank, decorated with gorgeous fabrics.”

Walker said Alice Munro is still a draw for the store.

“When Alice won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2013, it really put us on the map. She has so many fans and people made a trip to the store because of the connection with her,” Walker said.

Jim and then-wife Alice first opened the store on Yates Street in 1963 and stayed until 1979, when it moved to Fort Street.

In 1984, Munro’s opened in its current spot, a former Royal Bank of Canada building on Government Street.

The building, built in 1909, features 24-foot coffered ceilings and marble and hardwood floors. It is decorated in banners designed by artist Carole Sabiston.

In 2014, Jim Munro handed over the business to four of his long-time employees — Walker, Sarah Frye, Ian Cochran and Carol Mentha.

Walker said book stores are having something of a renaissance, with people looking to recapture the experience of reading from a book rather than a tablet or e-reader.

“Many like me will read on an iPad, but the experience is not as comfortable ... I never get into the book the same way,” she said.

The Destinations of a Lifetime list named Atlantis Books in Santorini, Greece as No. 1, with Cafebreria el Péndulo in Mexico City as No. 2. Behind Munro’s at No. 4 was El Ateneo Grand Splendid in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and No. 5 was the massive Powell’s City of Books in Portland,Oregon.

aduffy@timescolonist.com

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