“I don’t believe it.”
Those four little words held high meaning on July 3 as Sheree Fitch looked out at the crowd of about 500 people gathered for the opening of Mabel Murple’s Book Shoppe and Dreamery, which also hosted WordPlay, in River John.
She was standing with her husband, Gilles Plante, who helped make her book store dream come true. The two were adorned in purple, Mabel Murple’s favourite colour. They weren’t the only ones in purple either – throngs of people came dressed in the vibrant colour.
“I’m excited, overwhelmed, grateful and joyful,” said Fitch, grabbing just a moment inside the book shoppe while visitors were treated to performances for WordPlay. “It’s such a beautiful day.”
Fitch, the award-winning Canadian children’s author, said the turnout was much more than she could have ever expected.
“This has exceeded my wildest expectations,” she said.
Addressing the crowd, Fitch first opened with a poem before saying they were there, not because of a dream she and Plante had, but because of the community they live in.
“We didn’t do this by ourselves,” she said, noting numerous people who gave a tremendous hand over the past several months.
“This is a place that love built. This is what love looks like,” she said.
From the beginning of the day, hundreds of people – young and old – from all over the world walked through the colourful door to Mabel Murple’s, which at times still had a silver key with star keychain hanging from the lock. There were people from all over the province, as well as New Brunswick, and from as far away as Toronto, Washington, and even Saudi Arabia.
“This, we came for this,” said Kerry Clare, who travelled from Toronto with her family. “We love bookstores, a lot, and we met Sheree. We got to know her through Facebook and we love books. We’re huge fans.”
With books in her hand to purchase and looking through more, Clare said the store was wonderful.
“Sheree kept trying to keep everyone’s expectations low, but this is really lovely,” she said.
Clare’s eight-year-old daughter, Harriet Lawler, called the store “neat.”
“I love all the books,” she said, saying she reads just about anything. It’s only fitting her favourite book written by Fitch is ‘Mabel Murple.’
Clare said the family had never visited Nova Scotia, and it was the book shoppe and dreamery’s opening that brought them to the province for the first time.
“We were quite excited to come,” she said. “We are here for a week and we now know it’s not enough time to see everything. We will have to come back.”
Sitting in the grass near the front of the stage, Johanna Skibsrud watched her three-year-old daughter. An author herself whose debut novel ‘The Sentamentalists’ won the 2010 Scotibank Giller Prize, Skibsrud said she was excited for Fitch and the community.
“She’s been such a powerful and positive force for her community, rallying for the River John school, and bringing literacy and a love of imagination and books to the area,” she said, adding the store opening was a positive and wonderful outcome.
“And my three-year-old daughter, she’s another reason we’re here. We’re thirsty for this sort of thing.”
Costas Halavrezos, a former host of CBC Radio’s Maritime Noon, praised Plante for his handiwork transforming the couple’s granary into the book shoppe.
“Gilles has a capacity for carpentry I haven’t seen since about the 19th century,” he said. “You’ve created a place, a destination for pilgrims of Atlantic Canadian literacy.”
Mabel Murple’s Book Shoppe and Dreamery is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays until Labour Day weekend. It can be found at 286 Allen Rd., River John.