Portland, ME -- August 29, 2007

At Longfellow Books I had the privilege of talking with bookseller, Chris Bowe.

The poster behind him reads:
"Give us your tired, your used

Your huddled titles yearning to be

Read once more,

The wretched refuse of a shelf,


Bring these, the lonely, love-lost to

Our store,

You'll get store credit and they'll

Get reused!"

A lovely take on Lady Liberty's welcome, but it could use more editing--Longfellows is not just a shelter for books, it's a shelter for their readers as well. Longfellows, not immune to the Portland spirit, is very focused on creating community.

Together with the main library across the street, they do a brown bag lunch series, with presentations from local authors--Colin Whittier was one of the last authors to visit, with his book Republic of Pirates. The series is at noon on Wednesdays. Check out their website.

Local authors have an esteemed place at Longfellows. In fact, their bestseller list is very heavy with locals.

And, extending that community-mindedness past the world of books, his business partner, Stuart, is on the board of the Buy Local campaign. Because of it--it started on July 4th of last year--Portland local businesses had a fantastic holiday season.

A cool thing about the Buy Local campaign that they hadn't anticipated was that now they are doing business between each other more, like Buckdancers music store—his son is taking music lessons from them. Working together has solidified bonds. It feels good.

One store was unable to pay its rent, so people from other businesses pulled together and, in their cars, helped her move everything, blocked up traffic, but who cares.

It's a city that's small enough that you can be heard.

Something he's excited about at Longfellows is their new sustainability section. Sustainability in politics, gardening. Everything. It was there that I found Deep Economy, by Bill McKibben, for my book club. No need to buy online!

What makes Portland unique is that it still has the mom and pop stores. Even when you go to Harvard square, he said, you can see that culture is disappearing-- it's soulless.

One project to revitalize local business, was the creation of the Market House, a large building that simulates an open-air market. He said it really enhanced community. The day I was there, especially with the farmers market going on, was really alive. The Market House sells products that originate in the area—bread, cheeses, beer. His wife is working with artists and crafts people to organize an event on a weekly basis.

A book he recommends to people--Ask The Dust, by John Fonte. It's one of the most honest, heartbreaking novels of love that cannot be. A short story writer falls in love with a woman who is addicted to marijuana and won't pay attention to him. Fonte, he said, doesn't waste any words. After people read it, they thank him—it's a good book.

At Longfellows they know books. If someone needs something and they can't figure it out, they call them back later--you can build a community through reading, he said.

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