HOULTON, Maine — It is the final chapter of a storied history in the Shiretown. After 46 and a half years, Lynn York will close the doors on his bookstore on July 31.
“I have mixed emotions,” he said. “It has got to be done because its time is done.”
With the infusion of electronic books, the days of paperbacks, hardbound copies and magazines are waning.
“It’s been a long, long run,” said York. “There will be some big sales in here” leading up to the final day.
York’s father started his business career with York’s Radio Shop and then developed Houlton Television, Inc. in 1956.
“It was the second television corporation with a cable system,” explained York. “The other one was in South Portland.”
The elder York then decided to leave the television industry in its infancy to pursue a business that his wife could also participate in. York’s Books opened in Houlton in January of 1968 through a corporation formed by the York family and their lawyer, Roland Atchison.
Lynn York joined the family business that winter, but in the fall of 1968, he went into the Army and was shipped to Vietnam. He came back home in 1971 and worked with the bookstore while he was substitute teaching. In October 1973, York went to Washington, D.C., to work with the Central Intelligence Agency until 1975.
“When I returned I assumed the chairmanship of the corporation,” York said. “My dad retired, but I retained him for three days a week and he stayed with me until the spring of 2007. He was 93 years old. My mother worked in the store until she was in her late 80s.”
York’s Bookstore started at 80 Main St. in Houlton and after five years, it relocated to the French Block on the corner of Main and Court streets. The next and final stop was nine years later when store moved to 19 Market Square in June of 1981.
“The peak of the store was in 1979,” said York. “Our initial holding in book titles was 2,600 when we were on the corner of Court and Main streets.”
The Yorks moved to a slightly smaller store in Market Square — 1,300 square feet compared to 1,500 — and went down to 1,800 book titles. From 1,800 titles the store dropped to 1,200. Currently, York’s Books carries 800 book titles in paperback and hard bound.
“Slowly, slowly the books have eroded,” York said. “Unfortunately, the trends have changed.”
He said electronic books, Kindles, Nooks and online retailers such as Amazon have had a major impact on print sales.”A lot has changed in the books business.”
And those who want to have a physical book in hand seem to be too few and far between.
But, the one thing that has remained strong for York’s Books has been its Hallmark affiliation. Hallmark cards and gifts have been sold in York’s Books for 42 years.
“We started selling Hallmark cards in 1972,” he said. “They have been excellent and we are going to keep them running right up until the very end. I do a card order every week. They have made all the difference in the world.”
Through its 46 years, York’s Books has employed 37 employees in all.
“Some are living still and some are not,” he said.
The highpoints of owning a business for almost half a century are the people who come through the door and the stories shared.
York said he has a friend who comes every other year for a visit from Switzerland and many friends from Germany. He has entertained at the bookstore celebrities, who have come to the Houlton Fair such as Kris Kristofferson, The Forrester Sisters, Charlie Daniels and his band.
“Barbara Mandrell walked in on her own in 1977,” York added.
Other moments also are etched in York’s memory.
“We started in the ‘heyday’ in the late ‘60s,” he said. “It was a different world. We sold records and we did not even get a chance to open the record cases up. There were 50 in a box. We had five boxes of 50 Beatles records and they were gone in three hours. Kids lined up outside the bookstore to get the Beatles and Rolling Stones.”
Then there was the elderly lady and her granddaughter from Halifax, Nova Scotia, who found their way to York’s Books on a rainy Friday night in 1979.
“We used to be open three nights a week when we were on the corner of Court and Main streets,” said York. “A crippled older lady, who I guessed was well into her 70s, with help from her granddaughter came over the door sill.
“The older lady gimped over to the best-seller rack and opened up the book called, “A Night to Remember” by Walter Lord. She said, ‘That is me.’ She was a survivor from the Titanic.”
The lady told York that she was born in 1900 and was 12 years old when she had gone to Ireland for the Christmas holidays, along with her brother. They had stayed there for a few months and were traveling back to Nova Scotia with their cousin when the liner hit an iceberg.
“They did not make it,” said York, referring to the woman’s relatives. “She was the sole survivor of the family. I will never forget that. I only wish I could remember her name.”
Even though the doors of York’s Books are closing, York himself will not be retiring.
“I have two corporations I am responsible for,” he said. “The second is the Northern Maine Light Shows, which is a tent rental company. I have been doing that for 31 years, so that continues.”
As far as the bookstore, it is the end of an era in Houlton.
“I have always loved Midnight Madness … the craziness … and Christmas,” said York shaking his head. “This has been a joy of a lifetime for me.”
Choking up a bit, York also stressed how he would miss his customers, who have made the bookstore a social centerpiece.
“It has always been great to be able to sit and talk to find out what is going on and who is doing what,” said York. “It has been a blessing … It’s been a hell of a ride. Thanks for the good times.”