New owner, town officials save Fort Kent bookstore from closure

3 weeks ago

FORT KENT, Maine — At a time when local bookstores are becoming increasingly rare, one shop in Fort Kent was recently saved from closure with the help of a new owner and the Town Council.

Jamie Pelletier, who worked at the store for about two years, bought the business with a $50,000 loan from the Fort Kent Revolving Loan Fund.

Bogan Books first opened on Sept. 12, 2018. Heidi Carter, the original owner, said she was looking for a change in her career while also doing something that would benefit the community.

At the time of the shop’s opening, Aroostook County’s only other book store was Volumes in Houlton — which sells mostly used books. Bogan Books was the only book store in the region that exclusively sold new books. A few years later in 2021, Neighborhood Books in Presque Isle, which also sells new books, opened its doors.

Carter said she was inspired by visiting stores like Mr. Paperback in Caribou when she was younger. Mr. Paperback was an independently owned bookstore with 10 locations throughout the state, all of which closed more than a decade ago.

“It was always a treat to be able to go there,” she said. “But I love to travel. And when I travel, I seek out independent bookstores. I always find that it tends to be a cultural hub for those communities, and a creative space.”

And since opening Bogan Books, Carter said she feels something similar has happened in Fort Kent. Some students had their prom pictures taken at the store. One couple, Carter said, even had their wedding at the shop.

She said the store became a place for people of all backgrounds and kindred spirits who may not have had a place to go before.

In 2022, Down East magazine picked Bogan Books as the best bookstore of the year.

It was also in 2022 that Carter took on a part-time position at the University of Maine at Fort Kent. And in April 2023, she began working as the school’s executive director of marketing and brand management.

Carter said this career was a professional aspiration.

“At first, I tried to do both,” she said. “But it just did not work well.”

Carter had Pelletier’s help, but managing a business while holding a full-time job at the university became too much to handle. Still, she did not want Fort Kent to lose the business. So she put it up for sale.

“It had been well over a year,” she said. “We had some really great interest. Some good people stepped forward, but for whatever reason it never worked out.”

With nobody buying, Carter said she and her husband eventually made the tough decision to close the store.

When the store’s closure was first announced, Pelletier said the sadness in the shop was palpable.

“Everyone was coming in with long faces,” Pelletier said. “They didn’t want to see it closed.”

Not wanting to see the store close, Pelletier looked for a way to buy the business. She made a business plan and brought it to Fort Kent Town Manager Suzie Paradis. They discussed different ways in which Pelletier could purchase the business. Pelletier said she just took a loan out for a home, so the bank would likely not help her. She also was not interested in owner financing from Carter.

“I didn’t want to do that to Heidi,” she said. “I want her to spend time with her family. She was selling and closing for a reason.”

After explaining this to the town manager, an emergency Town Council meeting was called. Carter attended the meeting and spoke about why Pelletier would be an ideal candidate to take over the store.

Pelletier, who was not in attendance, said she thought Carter’s presentation was about the store itself, but later found out that it was primarily about Pelletier’s character, and why she deserves a chance to take over the shop.

Following her presentation, the council approved giving Pelletier a $50,000 loan to purchase the business.

“I started crying,” Pelletier said. “She saw something in me, and the town manager saw something in me. And it actually worked out. I cried a lot. I laughed a lot. And I’m super, super happy that I can continue what [Carter] created.”

Paradis said she was happy the town could help the business.

“Bookstores serve as a vital hub in communities,” the town manager said. “If we can offer access to literature, we foster a love for reading. Small retail stores in our community play a crucial role in sustaining our local economy, creating jobs, and preserving the unique character of our town.”

Looking ahead, Pelletier is continuing to purchase new books and will also continue the tradition of hosting unique events such as weddings at the store. She also hopes to help promote other small businesses and artists by displaying their items and showing their work at the store.

“It’s a different world in here,” Pelletier said. “Sometimes you walk in and almost forget that you’re in Fort Kent, because you’re just walking into a different kind of world and you get lost. And if Bogan Books can do that for somebody, that’s a plus.”