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Praise for the purveyors of pages

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Praise for the purveyors of pages (edge photo by Sheridan Adams)

Celebrating books and bookstores for Independent Bookstore Day

Independent Bookstore Day (or Indie Bookstore Day) is about to mark its third year. The celebration of booksellers actually began life in 2014 as California Bookstore Day before expanding into a more nationally-oriented event the following year.

IBD has landed on the last Saturday in April – April 29 this year – and many bookstores will feature special items, author signings and other events as they participate in the festivities. You can find out more at www.indiebookstoreday.com.

If Independent Bookstore Day seems reminiscent of last weekend’s Record Store Day, there’s a very good reason for that. The initial California celebration was actually inspired by the ongoing success displayed by Record Store Day.

In honor of Independent Bookstore Day – and independent bookstores everywhere – we paid visits to a few of the area’s indie bookshops to flip through a few pages and ask a few questions about what draws someone to the book business, what a bookstore can mean to a community and even a reading recommendation or two.

(Please note: these are just a handful of the many quality independent bookstores that are scattered all over our state. If you aren’t close to one mentioned, odds are you’re close to a different one – one with its own unique character and a similar devotion to the business of the printed page.)

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The Briar Patch

The Briar Patch has been a mainstay in downtown Bangor for decades. Aimed primarily at younger readers – but with offerings for older readers as well – the store is located at 27 Central Street.

Gibran Graham, owner of The Briar Patch (and semi-constant target of good-natured April Fools’ Day ribbing in these very pages), recently took the time to sit down and talk about his bookstore bona fides.

“My first job at age 13 was in a bookstore,” Graham said. “It was my hometown store in Massachusetts. I was a huge book nerd. I’d hang out in there – sometimes, I’d organize the books. It started as kind of a joke, but I wound up working there for a couple of years.”

Graham worked at numerous bookstores of varying sizes, including for a few years at the former Borders store here in Bangor. In 2011, he started working for Cathy Anderson at The Briar Patch, doing marketing and events (including the massive “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” event that unexpectedly drew some 2,000 people to downtown Bangor last summer); when the time came for Anderson to sell, she had an ideal candidate.

“When [Anderson] decided to retire, it presented me with an exciting opportunity to succeed her as the owner,” said Graham, who just recently signed on the dotted line and officially took command.

He’s bullish on the future, waxing enthusiastic about the store’s place in downtown Bangor and the synergistic relationship amongst many of the area retailers. Digital publishing’s growth has slowed as well. But Graham recognizes that there’s always an ebb and flow at play.

“People love the new thing,” he said. “Stuff like that has always been a danger. But there just isn’t the level of service that [independent bookstores] can provide. People can’t browse the same way. And tactile shopping is such a huge part of being a book lover.”

He went on to talk about some ways in which a bookstore’s presence can be valuable to a community.

“Booksellers tend to be an openminded, freethinking lot,” Graham said. “We want to sell books that appeal to [a wide range of] people. And if we don’t have it, we want to be the ones who can help you to get it. An independent bookstore should be a safe place, a sanctuary where people can come in to look at what they want and read what they want.

“It’s a place for open discussion,” he continued. “People need to be exposed to different opinions, different cultures … an independent bookstore is a great place for that. It engages the parts of you that you use for reading and thinking and communicating. It’s somewhere for people who love books and love talking about the books that they love.”

Currently reading: “Rereading Stephen King’s ‘The Dark Tower’ series along with two dozen other books. Just finished the middle reader novel ‘See You in the Cosmos’ which I loved. My new favorite kids’ graphic novel series is ‘Hilda.’”

Favorites: “All-time favorites include ‘Ender’s Game,’ ‘Watchmen,’ the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald and anything by Haruki Murakami.”

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BookStacks

BookStacks – located at 71 Main Street in Bucksport – has been around for two decades, serving the people of that community since 1997.

Andrew Lacher is the owner of BookStacks, a 33-year veteran of the bookselling trade. He was nice enough to take the time to speak to us recently.

“I started back in 1984,” Lacher said in a phone interview. “I was a clerk at Mr. Paperback when they opened in Brewer. I left for a while, came back as a manager and opened the Mr. Paperback in Belfast. I spent a few years working as a buyer as well. And in 1997, I decided that I was going to try to do this on my own.”

Lasting 20 years in any business is impressive; lasting so long in the book business – particularly with the ups and downs of the last decade-plus – is doubly so. But Lacher’s passion for books led the way.

“I like to read and I like people who read,” he said. “I get to be surrounded by books every day. This kind of independence is a dream. Although it can be scary without a safety net.”

Lacher has seen a lot of changes in the industry in his time at the helm of BookStacks. When he started his store, the major existential threat to the indie bookstore was the big-box chain. The nascent internet boom had yet to truly hit; Amazon – at this point still solely a bookselling website – was still a relatively small blip on the radar. Things like e-readers were still the realm of science fiction.

“Back in ’97, little indies looked to be on the way out [with the proliferation of chains],” he said. “People didn’t see Amazon coming; it was devastating – particularly to the big ones. But little stores were better equipped. They’re more agile, like a Jet Ski compared to an aircraft carrier – maneuverable, capable of quick turns and quick decisions.”

As for his place in the community, Lacher is humble, but honest. He embraces the role that he gets to play in terms of the town’s cultural and social scenes.

“I don’t want to sound pompous, but towns need bookstores,” he said. “People need a place to go and gather that isn’t home or work. This place is kind of like “Cheers” – everybody knows your name.

“People meet here daily,” Lacher continued. “This is where they come. I welcome it. And truthfully, I’m appreciated for that. The store is a significant social hub in town.”

Currently reading: “Right now, I’m reading an excellent young adult novel by a woman who grew up in Searsport. As a young girl, she was one of the readers at this store. She signed with Harper; just a great writer. Her name is Gillian French and the book is called ‘Grit’ – we’re doing a launch party here at the store when the book comes out at the end of May.”

Favorites: “It is absolutely ‘The Work of Wolves’ by Kent Meyers. I have my favorite authors – Louise Erdrich, Wally Lamb, Richard Ford is another one – but Meyers might top the list. I think he’s one of the very best writers we have; I’ve hand sold 174 copies of this book.”

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Left Bank Books

Left Bank Books began life in Searsport in 2004. After eight years there, Left Bank had outgrown its space. The store moved to Belfast – 109 Church Street to be exact – and has been there ever since.

Barbara Klausmeyer, one of the co-owners of Left Bank Books, was gracious enough to offer a few thoughts via email.

“My two partners Lindsay McGuire and Marsha Kaplan and I opened Left Bank Books in August 2004,” Klausmeyer said. “So we have been in business for nearly thirteen years, eight of them in Searsport and nearly five here on Church Street in Belfast.”

But make no mistake, this was not the first rodeo for any one of three. All had spent plenty of time in the book business and were excited to take the plunge.

“Between the three of us, we had over 25 years [of] experience in bookselling, most of that at the former Fertile Mind Bookshop in Belfast,” said Klausmeyer. “After working for three different owners there, we decided it was time to try ‘running the circus’ ourselves, and when a beautiful old bank building became available in Searsport, we jumped at the chance!” 

Klausmeyer went on to talk about Left Bank’s place in the Belfast community and the cultural/social role it plays in the city.

“We see our role in the town as providing an attractive and welcoming atmosphere with thoughtfully selected new books in a wide range of categories,” she said. “The city of Belfast has grown dramatically in recent years, with many retirees feeling drawn to its active harbor and artistic, dramatic and educational traditions.

“We host a Winter Lyceum of eclectic authors and speakers, and many high-profile and fascinating authors in the summer,” she continued. “This helps make us a community center of sorts, and we love to welcome browsers who also like to discuss books and issues, while their dogs - always welcome at our shop - nap at their feet.”

Klausmeyer listed a few of the distinguished authors to whom Left Bank has played host in recent years, including literary luminaries such as David McCullough, Ann Patchett, Richard Russo, Elizabeth Strout and inaugural poet Richard Blanco – not to mention three Senators in George Mitchell, Olympia Snowe and Angus King.

She went on to add an optimistic observance of the world’s current relationship to books.

“It is heartening to see the enthusiasm of local and visiting customers who still treasure the feel of real books and appreciate that our selection is unique and personalized to our own, and not a corporate, taste,” she said.

Currently reading: “I am at the moment reading ‘A Piece of the World’ by Christina Baker Kline in advance of her signing with us in July. It is an intriguing fictional account of the friendship between Christina Olson and Jamie Wyeth and how he came to compose the famous painting ‘Christina's World.’”

Favorites: “It is nearly impossible to pick my all-time favorite book, but candidates would include ‘To Kill a Mockingbird,’ ‘Great Heart,’ and ‘All the Light We Cannot See.’”

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Books are important.

It can be easy for people to forget that, especially in a world filled with content-laden screens clamoring for your attention. And while there are plenty of benefits to such a world, one of the downsides is the gradual disappearance of the physical book.

Or rather, it almost was.

There was a period not long ago when it looked like the era of the bookstore as a viable entity was coming to an end. The advent of online retailers and e-readers marked distinct shifts both in how books were purchased and how they were consumed. And many booksellers – from massive chains down to neighborhood shops – were unable to adapt and so fell by the wayside.

But those that were able to adapt, well … they’re doing all right.

Yes, many business owners wound up struggling in the early part of the 21st century (over 1,000 bookstores closed in the period between 2000 and 2007, according to the American Booksellers Association). But the numbers have rebounded; ABA membership has risen by over 20 percent since 2009.

Many independent bookstores have shown a remarkable resilience. They have weathered storms of all shapes and sizes and remain as significant cultural and commercial touchstones in their respective cities. They serve a vital purpose in a community.

Bookstores are important.

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Books are important.

I’ve always loved being in a bookstore. Wandering the aisles, scanning scores of spines and wondering if something will catch your eye. Hoping that something will catch your eye.

While it’s tough to argue against certain conveniences brought about by developments in technology, there’s still no tech to replicate the feeling of a holding a book in your hands. You can’t feel its weight or riffle its pages when it’s on a screen.

Confession time: I was a full-on bookstore loiterer when I was younger. I didn’t want to go to the places that most of my peers wanted to go. I wanted to go and spend hours looking at books; I loved them.

Still do.

(None of this is possible, by the way, without plenty of complicit bookstore employees and owners. There were a lot – and I mean a LOT – of bookstore folks who happily looked the other way as a kid hung around for hours and then left without buying anything more often than not. Because bookstore folks love books, too – and they can smell their own. I don’t remember your names – if I ever knew them – but I’ll always be grateful for your understanding.)

And while I don’t necessarily spend as much time doing that as I used to, I still have nothing but fond memories. The sounds, the smells – I relished it all. I never worried about belonging when I was at a bookstore, because I already did.

Bookstores are important.

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So whether you head out on Indie Bookstore Day or just drop in any old time, pay a visit to your local independent bookstore. Books are important – and so are the many small businesses that sell them.

“Where is human nature so weak as in the bookstore?” – Henry Ward Beecher

Last modified on Wednesday, 26 April 2017 12:23

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