February 27, 2012

Hail & Fairwell: Mr. Paperback


Fifty years is a long time to run a retail business. Especially if that business is selling books.

For 50 years Mr. Paperback bookstores have serviced the greater Maine area. The 10 stores that comprised the Mr. Paperback chain were cobbled together by the Foss family. Robert Foss opened the Augusta, ME locations independently of his parents who had founded the original Mr. Paperback locations headquartered in Bangor, ME. Eventually Foss sold his locations to the Mr. Paperback company and the family began working together to grow their bookstore chain.

A write-up in the Kennebec Journal describes the closure of the longtime Maine standby:

The Bangor-based chain, which has been in operation for 50 years, announced this week that it will close its 10 stores, laying off about 80 full and part-time employees.

“It makes me really sad,” said former Augusta store manager Helen Paganucci, a longtime employee, Saturday. “I wish there were some way to keep it open.”

The closing is just the last step in a downward spiral that started with the Internet surge and the big box stores.

Paganucci worked for the Augusta stores for 21 years, from 1978 into the 1980s, and then again more recently, retiring five years ago.

In the 1970s and 80s “at Christmas we had lines of people waiting at the cash register,” she said. But in recent years “it just started to get slower, and got slower and slower and slower.”

But she added, “We always had our regular loyal customers.”

That last statement is a telling one and should serve as a warning. Good will is easy to come-by in the bookselling business. As are fans. But fans and well-wishers need to remember that they need to be patrons too if they want to keep their local bookstores around. Like the closure of any regional business, the real story of Mr. Paperback’s closure is about the 80 people who will lose their jobs. Again from the Kennebec Journal:

At the Waterville store Saturday, Melody Brann, 57, of Oakland, said about 10 employees will lose their jobs. She has been a part-time worker at the 70 Elm Plaza store for three years.

She said the the announcement the store would close was shocking and her co-workers who will lose their full-time jobs were especially shaken by the news.

Brann said loyal customers still bought enough books to keep the traditional book store afloat. She said it’s sad to see those people lose their local bookstore.

“You have a lot of people who still want the books — the hardcopy and paperbacks — and now where are they going to go,” Brann said.


Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.