Notebook: Announcing our summer partner bookseller, Print: A Bookstore!

by Ann Kjellberg, editor

Stopping by our new partner Print with me own locavore pals on our summer wanders (photo Andy Hoskins)

We are so excited to announce our summer bookseller partnership, with Print: A Bookstore, in Portland, Maine! Every few months we partner with a different independent bookseller to link to our reviews and bring you news of local book cultures across the land. We hope this summer we all will benefit from vicarious cool breezes blowing from their direction.

We posted two summers ago about the special charm of the bookstores and libraries of resort towns. I spent many a rainy summer day with a child on the floor of an unfamiliar library or bookstore, stealing off to sneak a look at the big-person shelves for myself. Places subjected to periodic influxes of people withdrawing from the cares of the world are primed for adventurous reading. I also learned from working on that post how resort towns tend to be more than usually self-selecting for civic enthusiasm—people move there because they love it, sometimes going so far as to act on a dream project like opening a bookstore as a mark of supreme neighborliness and affection for place.

Emily Russo Murtagh returned to her home state of Maine to start a bookstore without wandering around for very long. She was in her mid-thirties, with a recently-arrived second child, and realized that the Maine she’d been eager to shake off her shoes was where she wanted to be. She lured Josh Christie from the neighboring bookstore Sherman’s; he was following a family tradition of writing about Maine as his erstwhile student bookstore gig was blooming into a vocation. (He was a beloved enough presence that a local blog recorded first his mysterious resignation from Sherman’s and then his resurfacing with a store of his own.) Emily meanwhile had done stints at our former bookselling partner Greenlight in Brooklyn and another bookstore we know well, Odyssey in South Hadley, Massachusetts. (Kids I sat on the floor with there, I see you.)

Interestingly, Emily and Josh elected to put their bookstore at the corner of Washington and India Streets in Portland’s East End, a little bit of a walk from the historic Old Port where the tourists unload from the cruise ships. Portland’s Press Herald wrote at the time, “India Street was the city’s original thoroughfare, leading people up from the harbor toward Munjoy Hill. Russo and Christie believe Print is primed to take advantage of what have been historic pedestrian traffic patterns that are re-emerging because of the density of residential development.” “It feels like we’re joining a real community rather than a tourist attraction,” Christie told the Press Herald. One blogger enthused: “Print: A Bookstore is a bookshop that opened after I had moved away from Portland … I was so bummed! This definitely would have been one that I would have visited a lot as it was super close to where I used to live!” We noted in a post on bookstores’ effects on communities that the Boston Globe said Print’s opening in 2016 “brought a positive jolt of energy” to the area, and “it always bodes well for a neighborhood’s karmic health when an independent bookstore moves in.” (Our post went on to quote TopRetirement.com’s observation that towns with good bookstores are good places to retire, citing Portland as an example.) During the pandemic, Print’s fellow Portland store Longfellow Books told the Portland Phoenix that the closure of cruise lines had hurt their business. Emily and Josh for their part managed to retain all their employees on payroll with benefits through the pandemic, although they kept the store closed to foot traffic until (tadaa!) this weekend.

In addition to the energies of Emily and Josh, Print has behind it two literary patres familias. Josh’s father, John Christie, who sadly died shortly before Josh was able to open his own store, was a well-known local commentator on Maine life and the outdoors and author of an award-winning book on Maine skiing. Emily’s father, the novelist Richard Russo, has been a dedicated defender of independent bookstores and is supporting Print by hosting events and interviewing writers for a first-time author series. Emily compares his role to that of novelist Ann Patchett at her store Parnassus in Nashville (which recently for cameo in her widely read memoir in The Atlantic). Russo told Maine: The Magazine back in 2010:
I think it will be suicidal to lose bookstores. I think that the Internet is really good at selling very cheap things that people already know they want. In 1986, nobody knew that they wanted a Richard Russo novel because [his first novel] Mohawk was just being published then. Who the hell was Richard Russo anyway? Probably, nobody ever would have known that they wanted to read a Richard Russo novel if it hadn’t been for really small independent bookstores handing customers the book.

He said on receiving the American Booksellers Association’s “Indie Champion Award” in 2016:
Amazon, Google, Apple—they all sell a lot of books, but they’re not in the book business. They are in the business of business. They’re not book people. That doesn’t mean that they’re bad, but they are different from us because we are book people. It’s not just what we sell, it’s who we are. The noisier the culture gets, the more we crave quiet, stillness. Because beneath the noise and the sheer velocity of life, there is still a conversation going on, the conversation of the democracy. And that conversation is still taking place in the form of books, books written and read. And it’s because it's still important that we strain to hear that conversation. We need to know who’s saying what and what things ring true and authentic. When we press books upon one another—authors on their publishers, publishers on booksellers, booksellers on readers—we are doing what we’ve always done and always for the same reason. You’ll like this, we tell each other. This is worth your while. This will cheer you up. This will break your heart. This will help you understand. Here, right here, is your new best friend, this book.

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Russo told Maine: The Magazine how the experience of his early life in upstate New York easily transitioned to his appreciation for Maine, where he moved to take a position at Colby College when his kids were small and he was starting to achieve some success with his third novel, Nobody’s Fool. He said of Empire Falls, which was based in Maine,
people said about Empire Falls that “Richard Russo, he really got Maine right on the first try.” No, I don’t think I got Maine right, I think I got class right. I think I got mill towns right. I think I got the kind of work that people do and the kinds of problems that they have as a result from the kind of work that they do. I got that right, but I’ve been watching that my whole life, not just in Maine. My grandparents and my extended family grew up around the corner from each other in this small town in upstate New York. We all knew there were other finer places in the world to live, but that’s where we lived.

The corner of India and Washington Streets, a building that was a rug and furniture store, is at the corner of this sort of Maine as well. In their series of reports from towns across America that had managed to reverse industrial decline, which became the book and documentary Our Towns, James and Deborah Fallows reported on Eastport, Maine: “The population of Maine is poorer (and whiter) than America as a whole, and much older.” Maine has struggled from its earliest days with competition from more fertile farmland to its south and more profitable shipping routes in the opening west. Among Print’s local partners are organizations that advocate for poor farmers and for food relief; they connected readers with vaccination sites and prepared packets of books for kids isolated by the pandemic. Print runs a lecture series with the local Mechanics Hall, the legacy of a nineteenth-century movement bringing libraries and adult education to industrial workers (we touched on Mechanics’ Institutes in our post about bookmobiles). Emily and Josh echo this mixed legacy in a design for the store that is “rustic and functional in a rugged, industrial way.”

I wonder if India and Washington are in a way a little signpost of things to come. As the office- and city-centered workplace recovers from its first direct assault (its second may be around the corner), and we all start to think about the new workplace, one wonders if India and Washington start to look a bit more like the future of a few more of us. Many of our usually-vacation spots were inhabited for longer than usual this year by people who were not on vacation. (Emily’s own husband works remotely.) Perhaps the breakup of an office-centric existence will give a boost to the forces, like independent bookselling, that labor now to reimagine town life in the face of the centralizing drag of the tech monopolies as they vacuum up so many of our institutions and hollow out our human connections. Print: A Bookstore could also be seen as inhabiting the crossroads of something much bigger: a shift away from centralized media industries, a shift away from urban-centric office life, a reassertion of our depleted industrial and rural neighborhoods, a reaching out to and a challenge to be relevant for neglected communities, a questioning of digital living that is at the same time occasioned by the opportunities of digital living, a chance to reclaim a closer connection with nature.

We hope you will take the occasion of our partnership to shop at Print: A Bookstore, or, if not them, your own local bookstore! As we mentioned, Print is opening up this weekend for the first time in over a year to in-person browsing—congratulations and godspeed! We note how careful many of our bookstores have been about their reopenings (our spring partner Astoria Bookshop opened just a few weeks ago)—how protective of their staff and their customers. Many have been on the front lines of conflict over mask wearing, painfully illustrating the cultural dimension of that argument. Please respect booksellers and other retail or service workers as we fan out across this threshold moment this weekend, and wear a mask if they ask you to. And shop local!


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Print: A Bookstore is Book Post’s Summer 2021 partner bookstore! We partner with independent booksellers to link to their books, support their work, and bring you news of local book life as it happens in their aisles. We’ll send a free three-month subscription to any reader who spends more than $100 with our partner bookstore during our partnership. Send your receipt to info@bookpostusa.com.

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