The owner of BookMarc’s announced quietly in late December 2016 that his longtime downtown Bangor bookstore would close on Jan. 31.
“I’m ready to retire,” said Marc Berlin, 65, who opened his bookstore 28 years ago. “You suddenly realize there are a lot of things you’d like to do. I’ve been putting it off for a couple of years. It’s been a very difficult decision, and I rethink it all the time … but it’s time.”
Berlin said he’ll miss the daily interaction with customers, but he won’t entirely abandon the book world. He has already rented a booth at Antique Marketplace on Main Street, and he will sell used books there beginning in the spring. That will be a more hands-off endeavor.
When BookMarc’s opened in 1989, downtown Bangor was a dramatically different-looking place. Major retailers such as Freese’s and W.T. Grant’s had closed years earlier. The relatively new Bangor Mall was drawing shoppers away from downtown.
“It was quite a bit quieter,” said Berlin. “I used to walk around at lunch and never see anybody. Now I see lots of people, lots of young people. It’s a remarkable and welcome change.”
Berlin considered selling the business, as have other bookstore owners throughout the state recently when retiring. He’s had a few offers from parties interested in buying the business from him, but none of those have panned out — and Berlin himself admits that he’s remained somewhat ambivalent about the idea of retiring until as recently as this fall.
“That’s the thing that keeps me rethinking all this. It’s just so wonderful to talk about books with people,” he said. “They come up with things I haven’t heard of, and when that shipment of books comes in each week, it’s like Christmas. I’ll miss that terribly.”
In 2016, Berlin said his most popular books among customers were from Italian author Elena Ferrante and Canadian mystery writer Louise Penny. His own personal tastes have gradually shifted over the years from fiction to nonfiction — he counts new books including “The Boys in the Boat” by Daniel James Brown, “In the Kingdom of Ice” by Hampton Sides and “The Quartet” by Joseph Ellis as recent favorites.
“I used to read nothing but fiction, and my father always read nonfiction. I always said I’d never become that, but here I am,” said Berlin. “There’s always such an incredible wealth of books coming in every day. It’s humbling, because you just can’t possibly read them all.”
In the weeks leading up to the Jan. 31 closure, BookMarc’s will offer 30 percent off all books and gifts. Berlin said he has no idea if there are any people interested in occupying the location at 78 Harlow St., on the corner of Central and Harlow, but he’s focused on winding things down and looking toward the future.
“I plan to travel, and I want to hike a lot more, and I’ve got a woodlot that I’ve been ignoring for a long time,” said Berlin. “I don’t think I’ll lack for things to do.”