The beginning of the new year brought a change to one of downtown Damariscotta’s institutions, as Jeff Curtis officially took ownership of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Café Friday, Jan. 1.
Curtis, of Boothbay Harbor, owns Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shops, formerly known as Sherman’s Books and Stationery. The Maine Coast Book Shop is now the sixth store under the Sherman’s title, joining stores in Bar Harbor, Boothbay Harbor, Camden, Freeport, and Portland.
“It seems everyone is almost as excited as we are,” Curtis said. “It’s been the topic of every conversation for a while.”
In October 2015, it was announced that Curtis would be purchasing the store from Susan Porter, the shop’s previous owner of 42 years, following her retirement.
“Susan has really done a great job of managing the store over the years and made it something special,” Curtis said. “This is a great store that has been really well-established and has a great customer base. It’s a huge honor to be chosen to carry on the legacy, and it’s something we take very seriously.”
Curtis said there are a few characteristics of the Maine Coast Book Shop that differentiate it from the other five stores. The Damariscotta building is one of the bigger locations in the Sherman’s brand, something Curtis said is a luxury.
“We have two stores that are a third of this size,” Curtis said. “In those stores the aisles are narrow and the shelves are taller to make room for all the merchandise.”
The town of Damariscotta and the customers who frequent the store also give the Maine Coast Book Shop its own individual personality.
“I haven’t actually identified what it is, and I haven’t been able to put it into words, but this place has just a very unique, positive feeling,” Curtis said.
This is also the first Sherman’s store with a café attached, a fact that gave Curtis pause when he was considering making the purchase. To his “great relief,” Curtis’ life partner, Maria Boord, agreed to take on the responsibility of running the café. Boord has a variety of food service experience, and previously ran her own café, named Maria’s Café, in New Harbor.
“This was a decision that happened over the dinner table,” Boord said. “Those skills had been dormant for a while, but the more we talked about it, I got less and less scared, and now I’m really glad we stuck with it.”
Boord and Curtis operate the café together, and Curtis is the sole owner of the book shop.
Curtis said he knew there were fears in the community that a change in ownership would mean changes to the store. Since opening, Curtis has made some minor modifications to the store, such as placing sale books on tables and expanding the service counter at the front of the store. He said there are plans to replace the carpet and carry more stationery and paper goods, but he does not intend to make any major alterations the business.
“At this point I think we’ll just settle in and let the shop run,” Curtis said.
The café has already seen some changes. Boord said the price of each menu item was re-evaluated, and in some cases adjusted.
“We brought down the price of our lunch sandwiches and slightly increased the cost of the breakfast sandwiches,” Boord said. “We want to offer the best product for the best value.”
The café has started serving bread, bagels, and cookies prepared by Derek DeGeer at Hootenanny Bread, just across Main Street. Boord also plans to introduce more lunch specials to the rotation.
The walls of the café will be painted cream. Boord will bring in prints from her gallery, Maria Boord Gallery at 10 Commercial St. in Boothbay Harbor, to display.
Curtis and Boord hope to utilize the café more in hosting events, including book clubs and author events.
Since acquiring the Maine Coast Book Shop & Café, Curtis has changed the name of the Sherman’s stores to Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shops.
“It really is an indication of what a landmark this store is,” Curtis said. “It seemed like a perfect way to honor that.”
Curtis and Boord said they intend to be at the Maine Coast Book Shop & Café full time until late spring or early summer. At that point Curtis will return to rotating between the stores and Boord will check in once a week as needed.
“The staff at the café and the bookstore is wonderful,” Boord said. “They all agreed to stay on and have taught us a lot. They’ve been doing this for a long time, and they know what needs to be done.”
The Sherman’s general managers, Starr Dougherty and Tori Curtis, will be visiting the store as well. Tori Curtis is Jeff Curtis’ daughter.
In addition, another new face will be gracing the book shop. Sherman, an 11-year-old Samoyed dog, will be at the book shop whenever Curtis and Boord are.
Susan Porter and her husband, Barnaby Porter, offered to remain available to answer any questions Curtis and Boord have regarding the shop or the building.
“They’ve agreed to be on call and help us out, which is a valuable resource,” Curtis said. “They’re wonderful people and willing to help out.”
Curtis said the community has been welcoming and very positive about the change in ownership, and he looks forward to continuing the legacy Porter created.
“The town wouldn’t be the same without the book shop and the café,” Curtis said. “My number one goal is to make sure we listen to the customers and don’t upset the people who love this store so much.”