Stepping into Munro’s Books is like entering a neo-classical bookstore in the 18th century.
The wooden shelves are neatly lined with hundreds of books, 24-foot-tall columns stretch towards the ceiling, blue stained glass windows line the back of the building and colourful textile assemblages line the walls.
Now, Munro’s is being recognized as one of top 10 bookstores in the world by National Geographic.
Destinations of a Lifetime, published earlier this year, lists Munro’s as the third top bookstore behind bookstores in Greece and Mexico.
Munro’s managing partner Jessica Walker said the store has been on other top 10 lists before, but nothing as high profile as National Geographic.
“It’s always nice to be recognized and National Geographic is a fairly high profile travel publisher. It was great,” said Walker, who has been working at the store for the past 15 years. “The building and the environment — it’s a beautiful place to browse. I think people feel it’s a real community place.”
Munro’s Books has been a fixture on Government Street since 1984 — a store for locals to find new and obscure novels and an ever-popular tourist attraction drawing people from around the world.
Opened in 1963 by Jim Munro and his first wife, Alice (who won the Nobel Prize in literature in 2013) in the heart of Victoria’s old town, the store mostly consisted of paperbacks.
The neo-classical building was originally designed in 1909 by architect Thomas Hooper and includes ceilings that resemble those of the porch of the library of Ephesus built by the Romans in ancient times. The store relocated to a larger building on Fort Street in 1979 and to its current location in 1984.
Over the years, the store has garnered a reputation for its architecture.
Growing up on the Mainland, even Walker knew of the store’s legendary reputation, which is why she decided it was the only bookstore in Victoria she wanted to work in.
“As a child, I remember just thinking it was a great place to discover books that I hadn’t seen anywhere else and it was such a comfortable and old-fashioned place to browse,” she said.
It’s a reputation that reaches around the world.
Marianne Kelly has worked at the store for the past three years, after moving from England.
“I came in and thought the building was amazing,” said Kelly of her first experience in the store. “It’s the experience of coming here, the building and the atmosphere. People want to browse in this kind of environment.”
Also on National Geographic’s list of top 10 bookstores are Atlantis Books in Greece, Cafeberia el Pendulo in Mexico, Powell’s City of Books in Oregon, Librairie Avant-Garde in China and Shakespeare and Company in France.