As a self-prescribed bibliophile (I’m an English major, what did you expect?), I can wander around a bookstore for hours, reading the back of paperbacks and adding their titles to an ever-growing list called “Books to Read.” Small bookstores will always hold a special place in my heart, and as I have explored Maine these past four years, I’ve found a lot of great stores.
Not so great is the fact that they’re disappearing. Forbes found that in the past 20 years, independent bookstores in the US have decreased by more than 50%, with less than 10% of books being sold through independent bookstores in 2014. While big chains like Barnes and Noble and Borders (RIP) started the decline, even those stores are now in trouble since the introduction of Amazon. Amazon can deliver books cheaper and faster from the comfort of home, which has only become more popular during the pandemic.
As much as I can, I try to buy my books from small bookstores near me. Most, if not all, have COVID procedures to keep shoppers safe, and I feel good supporting small businesses. Since being back at Colby, I have bought books for class and for fun at several bookstores around Maine. Here are a few.
- Oliver & Friends Bookshop and Reading Room, Belgrade Lakes
Even though they opened in the midst of the pandemic back in May, Oliver & Friends has become a go-to spot when driving through the beautiful Belgrade Lakes. The beautiful open space has a wide selection of adult and children’s books, and whatever they don’t have in store, the staff are more than happy to order for you. Check out their website to learn more or order online for in-store pickup.
Pro Tip: Make sure you grab a bagel (my favorite is plain with homemade chive cream cheese) from Hello, Good Pie, the bakery down the street.
- Owl & Turtle Bookshop Café, Camden
A facet of downtown Camden since 1970, Owl & Turtle offers up great books and baked treats alike. The double-decker book nook, tucked away on a street close to the harbor, offers a wide selection of works, from children’s picturebooks, to botanists guides, to everything in between. Their in-store café provides plenty of sweet treats and espresso drinks to sip on while browsing. Check out their website for upcoming events, COVID policies, and more.
Pro Tip: Join the Owl & Turtle Book of the Month Club. Select a favorite genre, and every month the staff will send you (or a friend!) a book chosen especially for you.
- Print: A Bookstore, Portland
Located on Congress Street, Print was founded in 2016 by two longtime book booksellers. One founder is Emily Russo, daughter of famous Maine writer (and former Colby professor!) Richard Russo, a longtime proponent of independent bookstores. Russo commented that she and her co-founder, Josh Christie, “are first and foremost readers ourselves,” which makes every recommendation to customers that much more personal. They hold several monthly readings and events hosted by established and debut writers alike. Check out their website to browse the book selection or order online.
Pro Tip: Although the doors are officially closed to the public due to COVID, their readings and events are all being held remotely. Find the calendar of upcoming events here.
- Children’s Book Cellar, Waterville
There’s a small bookstore just down the street from the Alfond Commons! Although geared towards children’s books and toys, the Children’s Book Cellar has a growing selection of adult works as well. It’s a great place to grab a gift for a younger sibling, cousin, or other kid in your life, all while supporting the Waterville economy. Follow them on Facebook to stay updated on new arrivals and upcoming events.
Pro Tip: Swing by and get some dessert from Holy Cannoli after your visit!
To find more independent bookstores around Maine, check out the official list by the New England Independent Booksellers Association here. And whenever you can, remember to shop small, whether it’s for books, clothes, food, or other goods. The pandemic has been tough for everyone, small businesses included.