Maine is home to dozens of exceptional independent bookstores. Like true Mainers, each store has its own unique personality. The MWPA is pleased to celebrate these shops with a series of short interviews….with the bookstores themselves!
BookStacks was born in 1997. You’re an independent bookstore that boasts more than 5,000 new titles, more than 1,000 periodicals, and—as if that weren’t enough—even sell wine and serve “pretty good coffee.” Have you become a hub for your community north of the Penobscot River?
The numbers have changed since the last time I mentioned them to… somebody. We have 8,208 tiles on hand now and probably 750 periodicals. Not sure I could get away with calling BookStacks the hub of Bucksport because reading is such a niche market, and little independents like me account for something like 3% of that market, the same share as grocery stores and pharmacies.
Your owner, Andrew Lacher, moved to Maine in the early 1980s after reading Helen and Scott Nearing’s The Good Life and Louise Dickinson Rich’s We Took to the Woods. After three decades of living in Maine, what books have become Andy’s favorite about the state?
I don’t have a favorite Maine title, maybe Chris Van Dusen’s Circus Ship. A Pocket Full of Names, by Joe Coomer, was pretty good.
Does it bother you when people take a book off your shelf and then put it somewhere else? How does it feel to have so many strangers moving parts of you around all day?
I love it when strangers come in to see the store for the first time. Any bookseller will tell you how irksome it is to go to get a book for somebody and it’s not where it belongs, but that’s baseball. I’ve got the best job on earth.
71 Main Street, Bucksport
Longfellow Books (Portland)
What’s the origin of your tag line, “Fiercely independent”?
I’d say a response to the challenges for independent bookstores, and independent retailers in general, in the early 2000s. The internet, large chain retailers, etc, all combined to make for a pretty frightening and challenging time for indies. Longfellow Books stood up not just for bookstores, but was an early participant in the Buy Local movement here in Portland. “Fiercely” was a means of calling out how important it is to support local businesses.
You feature a list of your 25 bestselling books each week. Is there anything currently on it that surprises you? Are there any books that haven’t yet made it on the list that you think have been unfairly overlooked?
Atlas Obscura, Joshua Foer
Your are Having a Good Time, Amie Barrodale
You’re known for being a hub for readings in Portland over the years. When you look back, which ones particularly stand out?
It’s pretty hard to pinpoint a few, but among the highlights that stand out (each for their own reasons):
Zadie Smith—White Teeth
Crash Berry—Marijuana Valley
Terry Tempest Williams—When Women Were Brides
Hampton Sides—In the Kingdom of Ice
Phil Hoose—Perfect Once Removed
Monica Wood—all of them!
And just last week we had a phenomenal event with Bonnie Jo Campbell and Carolyn Chute—what a pair they were!
1 Monument Way, Portland
hello hello books (Rockland)
Your collection of new and used books is always changing, but you rotate in merchandise and unusual magazines, too. What is the most exciting object or magazine you have on your shelves right now?
I’m particularly chuffed about the magazine UPPERCASE, which my owner always claims was part of the reason she opened a bookshop: she wanted to make sure more people got to read it. (You’ll let me get away with using “chuffed,” right? I woke up in an Anglophilic mood.) It’s a deeply independent quarterly from Toronto, the tagline of which is “for the creative and curious.” Beautifully designed and printed, chock-full of awesome content, only a page or two of ads at the back, consistently inspiring without being over-earnest or treacly. You can only read a few pages at a time before getting ancy, wanting to make something.
What is the biggest change or best improvement since you opened five years ago?
Every year I hear more people making passionate commitments to shopping here as much as they can, not only because they like the idea of a bookstore on their Main Street, but because they love the idea of this specific bookstore on their Main Street. They love me for what I am, and what I strive to be. Which is:
★ Packed to the proverbial gills with good stuff
★ A little bit of something for everyone (unless you’re a book-hating misogynistic xenophobe; in that case, you probably wouldn’t enjoy yourself much.)
★ Small but powerful.
How do you feel about ebooks?
I prefer zbooks. (Or jbooks in a pinch.) In all seriousness, they have their place, but have you read Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains? I don’t need more screens in my life, man.
hello hello books
316 Main Street, Rockland
Sherman’s Books & Stationery (Bar Harbor)
You were born in 1886—120 years ago. Is there anything from your first year in Bar Harbor that is still the same today? Is there anything you wish was still the same?
Sherman’s was a family run business back then, and it still is today, although the family who owns the business changed in 1962 to the Curtis family. Back then we sold books and stationery, and we still do today, although our inventory has expanded over the years to include gifts, toys, and office supplies as well. I love the old photo’s showing horse and buggy carriages waiting outside the store, but I wouldn’t want to go back to that way of life!
Sherman’s Books & Stationery
56 Main Street, Bar Harbor*
*With locations in Boothbay Harbor, Camden, Damariscotta, Freeport, and Portland.
BookMarcs Bookstore (Bangor)
How do you feel about the Bangor Public Library living across the street?
The Bangor Library is the best neighbor a bookstore could have. We have a long list of mutual friends, and they keep us well-connected. The American Booksellers Association recommends using a community library circulation figures to gauge book interest. The Bangor Library is reputed to have one of the highest circulations in northern New England and my experience is that Bangor is very much a community that reads. I see a lot of library visitors walk across to the street to say hello to me. Though they already come with books in hand, they often leave with even more.
Your website includes a section on your books that have “unusual depth of content or something unique.” Could you highlight one of these areas for us?
When the store opened twenty-seven years ago it featured all new titles with a specialty in Maine titles and literary fiction. Now we stock as many used titles as new and though the Maine and local history focus continues the Fiction emphasis, though still strong, has yielded to an interest in Military and Civil War history and Outdoor and Forestry issues
Where did the name come from? Is there a Marc?
The owner’s name is Marc and way back in 1988 when he told his wife that he was thinking of starting a bookstore, she immediately responded with, “And I suppose you’ll want to call it BookMarc’s?” BookMarcs Bookstore opened in downtown Bangor in the Spring of 1989.
78 Harlow Street, Bangor
Devaney Doak & Garrett Booksellers (Farmington)
It looks like you host a lot of community events and outreach programs. Do you have plans for any new endeavors or expansion in the future? Or do you have a program that you currently support that you are particularly proud of?
We’re always looking for creative ways to expand our community outreach. It must be said, however, that we absolutely love our newest program, which is called The DDG Deserving Reader Award. This is a partnership with schools and non-profits to identify children who love to read but would never, due to family circumstances, be in a position to own their own books. It started when one of my publisher reps donated $25 to the store, to mark our 25th anniversary, but stipulated that the money had to go to a child who loved to read but wouldn’t be in a position own books. The Deserving Readers Program was a response to that and has been growing steadily. It allows the recipients to be able to come into DDG and get $25 worth of books for their very own. We love everything about the program.
What is the best weather for reading a book? Rainy afternoons, late-night snow storms, a sunny morning?
A weekend late afternoon, after a big hike, in which the weather was perfect for the hike but has now turned ominous, is the perfect environment for reading a book.
Do you remember the first book you put on your shelf when you first opened?
Before the store opened in May of 1991 thirty local writers and book lovers were invited to write an essay about what they look for and love about bookstores. Those thirty essays were bound and printed for us under the title of Backpacking with Bunyan & Other Confessions of Assorted Bibliophiles. They were on hand for us to hand out to customers when the store opened. We still have some left and will happily give a copy to any one of your readers who stops by the store and asks for Backpacking with Bunyan. I will also mention that our biggest hand-seller in 1991 was the terrific Possession by A.S. Byatt.
193 Broadway, Farmington
Mustard Seed Bookstore (Bath)
It seems like you stand as quite a central figure in the Bath arts community, bringing readers, writers, and tea drinkers together for a cup and a chat. What is it about you that seems to attract so many welcomed guests into your home?
This is a great question! We’ve been in business just 18 months, and we absolutely love the city of Bath. In that time, we’ve welcomed people into the store from all walks of life, from homeless people looking for a warm place to sit and enjoy a hot cup of tea, to Navy spouses, artists, hopeful writers, a knitting group, a group working on their art projects, grandmothers and granddaughters having a tea parties, people who just need someone to listen to them for a few minutes, to famous authors and film stars. In our after-hour events we’ve hosted numerous authors, poets, and musicians to share their craft with the public. We’ve also been a NaNoWriMo site and hosted an MWPA Gather. Our tag line is, “Where Your Story Matters,” and we firmly believe that everyone has a story to share if allowed to voice it. Our staff takes time to speak with each person who comes in to get a sense of what they like to read, or determine if they need a listening ear. We’ve had many customers walk in and tell us that ‘there is good energy here’, and suddenly tell us their life story. We ask God to give us wisdom and kindness every morning when we open the store, and it seems as though He brings people through the door who might need a good book or a boost. In addition to selling books, our mission is hospitality- to meet people wherever they are on life’s journey and help if we can. I guess that comes through and makes people feel very welcome.
What is your favorite time of day?
I would guess that each staff member has a different favorite part of the day. I love the mornings, welcoming the early birds into the store and hearing about their day’s plans. I love the noon crowd, when business men and women are on break, and when BIW workers are on lunch break—they walk through town as part of their health program. Many rush in to pick up the newest book for their children. Seeing them energizes me. I also love the after school crowd, tweens and teens who come in for a cup of tea with their friends, and browse through the YA section. Finally, there are the last-minute people trying to grab a book before we close. I appreciate that everyone would rather support a local, indie bookstore, than driving to a big box store or going online to buy their books. We know that every guest has a choice of where to spend their money and we are humbled to have them choose us.
Who’s your best friend? Do they come to you often? What books do they like? What kind of tea do they drink?
I have the pleasure of working with many of my best friends! (The Mustard Seed was planned, designed, and is run by Julie and her husband, their adult daughter, two close friends.) Other dear friends pop in when their time allows, or I have many friends come to the store when they’re on vacation in Maine. Everyone’s book interest varies: historical fiction, to YA, to faith-based, to realistic fiction, current/social events, to Maine books. When a friend comes in, I always try to sit and visit over a cup of tea. Our most popular tea flavors are African solstice (a rooibus), chocolate mint, and French breakfast. Bath’s own Starlight Café makes our cookies and scones- it’s hard to enjoy a cup of tea without one of their amazing treats.
The Mustard Seed Bookstore
74 Front Street, Bath