Much of Junia Lehman's life revolves around West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, the iconic candy-striped tower in Lubec, Maine, at the easternmost point of the United States. “West Quoddy Head Light is just a special place,” she explains. “I have visited a few other lighthouses and I have tried to be very open minded about them, but they just don't have the appeal that West Quoddy has.”
Countless tourists would undoubtedly agree. In recent years, the experience of visiting this special place has been enhanced by the addition of a visitors' center in the keeper's house, as well as the presence of West Quoddy Gifts – the “Easternmost Gift Shop in the U.S.” – just down the road, before the entrance to Quoddy Head State Park.
Junia and her husband, Steve, opened the gift shop back in 1990. You're likely to see Junia in her shop five or six days a week, but if you don't find her there, she'll probably be at the lighthouse or visitors' center, since she's also the vice president of the West Quoddy Head Light Keepers Association.
Junia grew up in a 200-year-old house in Lubec, just a mile from the lighthouse. Her father was a lobsterman and weir fisherman. The family was often on the water, but visits to the lighthouse were rare. “I first became interested in the lighthouse after I moved away for a few years,” says Junia. After earning a degree in office administration from Husson College in Bangor, Maine, Junia joined the Air Force. While stationed at Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane, Washington, she met her future husband, Steve Lehman.
In 1987, Steve and Junia traveled east to be married in Lubec. After returning to Washington, Steve – an avid woodworker —made some clocks based on photos he had taken of West Quoddy Head Light. The clocks were sent back east to Junia's cousin, who found they received lots of attention at a crafts fair. This success led Junia and Steve to move to Lubec, where they opened the first small version (12 by 20 feet) of West Quoddy Gifts in June 1990.
The gift shop was not an immediate success. “We spaced things out very far apart on the shelves because we did not have very much stuff,” says Junia. “I would go all day long and maybe sell ten postcards if I was lucky.” But Junia was persistent, and a few years ago an 18 by 24-foot building was added to the shop. Sales were boosted by advertisements in Lighthouse Digest; West Quoddy Gifts is the only business that has advertised in every issue of this magazine since it was launched in 1992.
The Lehmans pride themselves on the high quality of the gifts they sell, and they help local craftsmen by taking items on consignment. Sales in the shop are supplemented by online sales through the shop's website. Meanwhile, Steve started his own business, Steve Lehman Fine Cabinetry and Tile. His new woodshop is now under construction next to the gift shop.
A volunteer group, the West Quoddy Head Light Keepers Association (WQHLKA), was formed several years ago to enhance the experience of visitors to West Quoddy Head Light, and a seasonal visitors' center was eventually opened in the former keeper's house. Junia became involved with the WQHLKA shortly before the visitors' center was opened. “I wanted to become involved,” she says, "because since coming back from Washington State, West Quoddy and the area around my home have taken on a whole new meaning to me.”
Junia says that David Jones, a ranger at Quoddy Head State Park, was instrumental in sparking her involvement with WQHLKA. Jones lived in the keeper's house. “He was so excited about the visitors' center and the lighthouse itself, his enthusiasm grew on me,”says Junia. Jones died before the completion of the visitors' center, but visitors can see a video of him climbing the tower.
Junia has served in various capacities for the WQHLKA and has been the group's vice president in recent years. "I am on the Art Gallery Committee, the Website Committee and the Fundraising Committee right now," she says. She also sells WQHLKA merchandise in her gift shop.
Running the shop prevents her from volunteering at the visitors' center, but Junia heads over to the lighthouse and Quoddy Head State Park as often as she can. She especially loves the nearby beach called Carrying Place Cove. “That is my absolute most favorite place in the entire world," she says. “I take my chocolate lab, Chloe, there on an almost daily basis.”
Junia says the lighthouse must be seen in the fog to be fully appreciated. “It is very peaceful with the light shining and the foghorn blowing,” she says, “so much different than on a bright sunny day. It is almost like God is telling you to slow down and enjoy what is all around you.”
You can visit West Quoddy Gifts on the web at www.westquoddygifts.com. For more on the West Quoddy Head Light Keepers Association, visit www.westquoddy.com or call (207) 733-2180.
This story appeared in the
July 2006 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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