3 Newcomers Join Maine’s Vibrant Indie-Bookstore Scene

Here’s how they stack up.

inside Back Cove Books, in Portland
“We got a little extra with the ladder,” Back Cove Books owner Becca Morton says. Photo by Rachel Sieben
By Sarah Stebbins
From our November 2023 issue

Back Cove Books

SETTING: A serpentine space with a living-room vibe (dark-wood, floor-to-ceiling shelving, houseplants, local art) in the 1897 Odd Fellows Block, a brick “flatiron” building in the Woodford’s Corner section of Portland. The city’s fifth independent bookshop (not counting rare- or used-book sellers), it fills a neighborhood niche. “It’s important to me that the books reflect my community,” says owner Becca Morton, a local who happily stocks customers’ requests.

THEME: After an isolating stint as a stay-at-home parent, Morton wanted to create a gathering spot. “I love the idea of people using this as their third place,” she says. “It’s not home or the office, but a place of comfort and joy.” Story hours, book clubs, and knitting nights facilitate socializing, while nooks outfitted with comfy leather seats and floor cushions invite lingering.

REC: Mother Brain, by South Portland journalist Chelsea Conaboy, about the neurological shifts that happen during parenthood. “As a mother, I felt so much validation,” Morton says.

651 Forest Ave., Portland. 207-536-1250.


SETTING: A tin-ceilinged storefront with a wall of exposed brick on Searsport’s Main Street. Former attorney Elly Burnett, who opened the town’s sole bookshop in April, furnished the front half of the space with lightweight shelves and tables that can be pushed aside to accommodate author talks and book clubs. (A climate-change–themed club is in the works.)

THEME: “I’m focused on being Searsport’s bookstore,” says Burnett, who partners with neighboring businesses to promote art walks, author visits, and other community events. Used books account for about half of her inventory, and a program allowing customers to sell old tomes for store credit has helped acquaint her with her clientele, many of whom, it turns out, are U.S. history fans.

REC: Night of the Living Rez, Penobscot Nation citizen Morgan Talty’s acclaimed short-story collection. “It’s funny, hard, and makes you cringe,” Burnett says. “But I tell people to finish it because those last couple of stories pack the emotional punch.”

33 East Main St., Searsport. 207-548-4212.

Grump and Sunshine

SETTING: A pink-walled, romance-themed Belfast shop with steamy titles arrayed on whitewashed shelves and tables draped in floral cloths. With national sales of romantic fiction up 52 percent last year, owner Cassidy James Taylor felt Belfast, already home to two indie bookshops, was ready for one devoted to her favorite genre. The appeal? “Enveloping yourself in someone else’s happiness,” says Taylor, whose store name is a riff on the opposites-attract “Grumpy and Sunshine” romance trope.

THEME: Every kind of love story your heart desires, organized by subgenre, like fantasy, historical, and paranormal. Need suggestions? Taylor reads a romance novel a day and records a rating in a Goodreads account. “If it gave me a few hours of enjoyment, I give it five stars,” she says.

REC: The Demon Court, the first in what will be a seven-book fantasy series by Belfast’s Emma Hamm. “The world she created is so original and wonderfully detailed,” Taylor says.

159 High St., Belfast. 207-323-9577.

May 2024, Down East Magazine

Get all of our latest stories delivered straight to your mailbox every month. Subscribe to Down East magazine.