PORTLAND, Maine — It was not easy for Alice Moisen to close a 30-year chapter of her life Saturday, but she said the time had come.
“I was not able to pay enough attention here,” she said. “I have wonderful employees, but it is not the same.”
The owner of Annie’s Book Stop at 295 Forest Ave. spent the end of last week selling off stock and saying goodbye. By Saturday, a bag of paperback books could be had for $1 as Moisen tried to empty the shelves.
Now a full-time systems analyst at UNUM, Moisen and her late husband, Joe, opened what was then a bookstore franchise the same day the adjacent Hannaford Bros. store opened.
In the three decades since then, the couple outlasted the Annie’s franchise, while continuing to sell mostly used books with swap credits awarded to customers. For Moisen, it was a labor of love for literature, while her husband handled the business side.
“He was a natural shopkeeper,” Moisen said. “He’s been dead for three years and people come in and say, where is that nice man?”
Annie’s Book Stop never carried everything for everybody, but it did carry new bestsellers and had a children’s section Moisen said she tried to keep unique by stocking titles not found in larger stores.
Swaps had to be in good condition, and quickly outdated materials like travel or software guides were avoided. But there were always surprises.
“Authors you never heard of, where someone brings in the whole collection. Then you read one and you say, ‘Wow,’” Moisen said.
Over the years, her loyal customers aged. Moisen said younger people are not buying as many books. In her opinion, the digital age is “not as big a reason as people want to think it is” for the sales declines, but she said she still does not have time to run the store as it should be operated.
Moisen said she will miss connecting readers with specific books.
“It was the thrill of the chase,” she said. “It was kind of mystical, someone would walk in with ‘Book A,’ when someone was asking for it.”
Sometime around 1990, the Annie’s chain ran into financial problems. There had been stores from Maine to California, Moisen recalled, although most were concentrated on the East Coast and West Coast.
At that point, the Moisens joined with other franchise owners and bought the company trademarks and licenses to keep the name alive.
Annie’s Book Stops remain open in Freeport and Wells, and in locations in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
News of the Portland closing brought old and new customers to the store. Karen Chouinard, newly retired, arrived Thursday, when prices had been cut in half.
After Moisen rang up a $15 sale, Chouinard returned to the shelves; she had allowed herself to spend $20, she said.
On Friday, staffer Annie O’Keefe worked her way through the labyrinth of shelves, straightening and organizing as she has for 16 years.
An Old Orchard Beach resident, O’Keefe rode two buses to get to work.
“This is very hard, it is like losing a friend,” she said. On Sunday, she planned to take home some of the bookshelves; like Moisen, she said she loves reading and could find it hard to resist taking books home.