So, farewell then, Lexicon Bookshop. Standing slap in the middle of Strand Street since 1936, it must
have provided education and pleasure to thousands and thousands over the past 86 years.
It’s not quite the last of its kind, but the closure of The Lexicon is heavy with symbolism. An independent shop, holding its ground on the most commercial street in the Isle of Man, selling the very product that was the starting point for the biggest online retailer in the world. In a situation such as this, it’s easy to put aside the harsh realities of business and wallow in sentimentality. So permit me to do just that.
I was a bookish child. Ladybirds, Richard Scarry, Enid Blyton (yes, yes, I know now, obvs), and all the usual suspects got voraciously hoovered up. I was a member of two libraries – the cosy wee Onchan one and the magnificently atmospheric, echoing red-brick old Douglas one on Lord Street – but there was something special about owning books of your own.
This meant that for birthdays and Christmas I was “easy to buy for” to use a very Aunties and Uncles phrase – book tokens did the job nicely. Some people see tokens as a cop-out gift, but I still love to receive them. Nobody ever returned a gift voucher to the shop because they didn’t like it. And more often than not, it would be The Lexicon that beckoned me in, vouchers clutched in my hand.
The Children’s section was at the back of the shop, heading towards the posh pen department, so to reach it I had to make my way through the intimidating but fascinating grown-up area. Whether by accident or design, this layout was enough to keep a curious kid interested in books in general. Get through all the junior stuff, and then you can move on up to all the mysteries of the adult books, my line of precocious thinking went.
Obviously, I didn’t dive into every genre The Lexicon had to offer. A-Level Geometry study guides, bodice-ripping romance novels the size of a loaf of bread, and those bizarre cricket almanacs all failed to float my bookworm boat. But somebody went into the shop and bought each of those. The staff of The Lexicon, each with a brain as big as an encyclopedia, knew their customers, and curated their stock with laser-beam accuracy.
So as I said, The Lexicon isn’t quite the last of its kind for the island. There’s still a fair scattering of indie shops, and yes, a few of them are bookshops. But the loss of The Lexicon will change shopping in Douglas. It didn’t just represent the non-corporate, long-established type of shop that endears itself to people in a way that places of commerce usually don’t. It was everything you want from a bookshop – a portal to other dimensions that rivals Mr Benn’s fancy dress hangout. Books from The Lexicon have taken me all around the world, backwards in time, and into outer space. All for the cost of a book token.
Whatever internet-proof business takes over 63 Strand Street, I wish them well. But you just don’t get that kind of extraordinary mind-expanding experience from a coffee shop or a nail bar.