Book store writes final chapter

12 years ago

Book store writes final chapter

By Barbara Scott

Staff Writer

    “Everyone points to the digital revolution,” stated Jim McCree, general manager of the family-owned Mr. Paperback chain, “but ultimately when the big chain stores, like Walmart, started selling books — that’s when the downfall of independent bookstores began.”

    McCree was at the Mr. Paperback locations in Caribou and Presque Isle recently, as staff members continued with the stores’ final days of operation. The bookracks stand empty now — no sign of the extraordinary variety of authors/titles they displayed for nearly 22 years (at the Caribou store). The magazines that formerly consumed an entire wall (and part of the back) have also disappeared and the gift items.

    Although the downfall began with the big chains selling books at discounted prices, this was followed by the increase in digital technology awareness. “Unfortunately many people are reading less,” said McCree, “but let’s face it, when households have access to 150 television stations, Xboxes, Wii, Facebook, YouTube, etc. we search where we can get what we want — instantly.”

    McCree noted that at one time travel books were one of the biggest selling categories, with how-to titles right there beside them, “Now if you want to learn how to do something, from knitting to electrical wiring, all you have to do is go online. Regarding travel books, individuals go online, read about where they are traveling to, book everything including their sightseeing trips all at once online,” added McCree. “The only exception might be when a family was planning a trip to Disney — then they might still use the travel volumes as a resource.”

    “The economic crisis, when it really hit everyone in 2008-09, really gave digital books the bumps it needed — it became pretty attractive for people to download the book(s) they wanted or in essence — carry an entire library with them,” McCree stated. “Bookstores in airports used to be very busy, passengers with any spare time between flights would stop in and pick up something to read while traveling but now they have the iPad, iPod, Kindles, etc.”

    “Technology has slowly been chipping away at book sales for a number of years now, even magazine advertising targets the online readers, allowing them a greater audience,” said McCree. “Ultimately, every product we sold, be it books, magazines, gifts or greeting cards, everything came under siege by new technology. The last 10-12 years we have been treading water and when the big technology boom hit — we just found ourselves going deeper.”

    McCree, who has worked with the company for the past 18 years, stated that the decision to close the Mr. Paperback stores didn’t come quickly or without a sense of loss. “This has been a very painful decision for the Foss family to make. They (and myself) have never taken for granted the customers who have so loyally shown their support to the Mr. Paperback stores over the years.

     Mr. Paperback and its sister company, Magazines, Inc. (distributor for books, magazines and newspapers statewide) both located in Bangor, was established in the 1960s by John and Evelyn Foss. The companies were passed on to their children Robert Foss, who is retired; Ralph Foss, Penney Robichaud and Pamela Williams.

    At the time the decision was made to cease operations, there were 10 Mr. Paperback locations including Augusta, Bangor, Belfast, Dover-Foxcroft, Ellsworth, Farmington, Skowhegan, Waterville, Presque Isle and Caribou.

    According to McCree negotiations are taking place to sell Magazines, Inc. to Hudson News based in Worcester, Mass., which would move the distribution center to a Gorham facility, taking over for Magazine Inc. accounts. It was also noted that Hudson News had little interest in taking over the Mr. Paperback stores resulting in all locations being closed by the end of April.

    “I’m very sad,” said Kristina Drinkall, store manager since 2004, “not only for us (employees) but for the community. We need a bookstore. I will miss my very dedicated staff and all of our customers.” Drinkall has also been the manager at the Presque Isle mall location of Mr. Paperback since it opened there two years ago.