By Kira Spellman
BELGRADE LAKES — In the heart of the village in Belgrade, a shining new gem has been lovingly nestled into place.
At 87 Main St., Oliver and Friends Book Shop and Reading Room opens with a crisp, sunny space, and an owner who is as passionate about her community and family as she is about her books. A careful selected inventory ensures a treasure trove of new learning, activities and literary journeys for all ages.
The charming loft-style independent shop is a welcome cove for locals, visitors and summer people looking for an enjoyable escape.
The shop owner, Renee Cunningham, has poured her life into her shop.
“My personality is this shop,” she said. “It personifies who I am.” She confesses, sheepishly, that she is “subliminally drawn to books about animals” which is evident in the children’s book area, intermingled with a collection of Maine classics and new best sellers.
Cunningham credits her husband, Scott, who owns a local painting company, with the shop’s warm transformation and the success of the venture. He “has been amazing with his support,” she said. “The whole space is the way it is because of him. He is the one I bounce all of my ideas off of.”
A native of Peabody, Mass., Cunningham recalls her passion for books beginning from early childhood. Her parents were hard-working and often away. The youngest child, she was (and is) more of a loner and old soul, not sharing the same interests as her sister and brother.
“My sister liked to read, but she loved books written by Stephen King,” Cunningham says. “I respect him, but I’m a scaredy cat.”
She found great solace with reading. In her 20s, a visit to her aunt and uncle’s home in Bethel proved to be pivotal. She visited a local small bookstore and became enamored and knew this would be her own dream.
Years passed and she and her husband moved to Belgrade. “We wanted to stretch our view and in Belgrade, the people are delightful and welcoming,” she said.
The empty store space she spotted for months became known as “her shop.” She began to build, first, relationships with her community. Cunningham volunteers at Belgrade-Rome Food Pantry, and connecting to people as she goes about her way.
Despite being introverted, she has made friends and, with her books and “all the (introvert) walls come down.”
She hopes to continue a special connection with local author Maureen Milliken, she said, who lives close by the book store and whose mystery novels are set in Franklin County.
Oliver and Friends is filled with popular and new books for all ages, as well as nonfiction books about travel, health and wellness, science, philosophy, arts and more.
Very open-minded about today’s marketing needs, she notes. “Amazon has its place in the world, for sure, but there is something special about holding a book. However, audiobooks and ebooks will be available to order.”
Future plans include seasonal book and wine events, writing groups and, because of her fond memory of book clubs, she hopes to offer those as well. She feels that having reading groups for different ages, especially youth, will provide a “safe place for healthy discussions.”
Guests can enjoy self-serve coffee, local baked goods and shops handmade jewelry and bookmarks.
The shop will adjust to the needs for social distancing and Oliver and Friends will indefinitely offer curbside service to anyone requesting it.
When she envisions her shop, she says, “I picture it’s a nice day, doors propped open, people coming in and out, having coffee and just chatting.”
It certainly sounds like a perfect day in Maine.