When Gerald Winters moved to Bangor from Thailand a little more than a year ago, he had one goal: to open a rare book store with every conceivable edition of Stephen King’s books, including manuscripts and first editions — a collection that took him two decades to amass.
But Winters was dealt a devastating blow Tuesday morning when a water main burst on Main Street, almost directly in front of his business, Gerald Winters & Son.
The broken main flooded his basement with chest-high water, soaking the pages of dozens of first- and limited-edition King books, galleys, signed copies, prints in different languages, rare ephemera, and seven of King’s original manuscripts.
He kept the rarer items — some of which he which travelled all over the world to collect — in his store “to show people, not to sell them,” he said.
He estimates he lost about 2,000 books, and as many as seven of King’s original typed manuscripts, including, “Dolan’s Cadillac,” “Maximum Overdrive,” and “The Eyes of the Dragon.” He also collected rare and signed copies of works from J.R.R. Tolkien and George R.R. Martin, some that date back 80 years.
“You can’t replace this stuff,” he said quietly.
He had moved much of his inventory to the basement while he reorganized his shop. He estimates that only about 10 percent of his entire inventory was unscathed by the flood.
The majority of those books were floating in soggy boxes in his dank basement late Tuesday afternoon. The water had receded to the bottom steps, where he stood looking, trying to see if he could identify anything.
“There’s a first edition of ‘Pet Semetary’,” he said, pointing to the waterlogged book sprawled on top of a box near the back of his basement.
City workers responded to two water main breaks on Tuesday — one on Maine Avenue near the University of Maine at Augusta campus, and the other on Main Street. Crews on Main Street were expected to continue working throughout the night.
In front of Winters’ store, city workers had used an excavator to dig through the pavement to the water main, only to find that the source of the leak was actually under the sidewalk and not under the pavement, according to Bangor Water District Inspector Pat Smith.
The Standard Shoe Building, which houses Winters’ bookstore and Nocturnem Draft Haus, appeared to have sustained the most damage from the burst main, with at least six feet of water pooling in both basements at one point. Furnaces were also damaged in the flooding, knocking the heat out.
Winters was preparing to box up his entire store Tuesday evening, fearing that the pipes running across the ceiling could freeze overnight and burst.
Concerned customers and family had been calling the bookstore to ask Winters about what had happened, but he said he couldn’t stomach picking up their calls or even to talk to his wife, who was trying to reach him from Thailand, where she is visiting family.
“I don’t even want to talk to them, because I don’t know what to tell them,” he said. “It’s a mess.”
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Correction: An earlier version of the story misstated where Winters' wife lives.