DAMARISCOTTA, Maine — Susan Porter remembers many Christmas Eves spent at Maine Coast Book Shop, helping customers find a special book and ringing up last-minute purchases while her son, Elijah, wrapped presents nearby.
“I never got home real early,” she said.
As a result, Elijah spent many happy childhood hours at the Main Street bookstore with his mom.
When Porter announced last week that Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe was for sale, she knew she needed to find a buyer with that same mindset.
“You have to be passionate about books,” Porter said. “You have to enjoy working, you have to enjoy unpacking boxes of books and putting them on the shelves, talking to customers, thinking of new ways to present books to people.”
But for Porter, 66, and her husband, Barnaby Porter, 68, it’s time to spend more time with their new granddaughter.
One of the largest independent bookstores in New England, Maine Coast Book Shop opened 50 years ago, switched locations twice, and now sits prominently in historic Lincoln Hall, the 1875 building that also houses the Lincoln Theater.
Susan Porter, who began selling books at Bookland years ago, bought the bookstore with her husband in 1986, although she’d worked there for 12 years already.
Fifteen years ago, they added the cafe. Along with the Skidompha Public Library, Renys and the post office, people told her, “You’ve got a golden triangle,” Porter said.
After so many years, Porter can’t walk five steps in the bookstore without stopping to chat with a customer.
One recent morning, she stepped from the cafe into the bookstore and called “Yes!” to a woman at a nearby display. Hester Stuhlman was startled, then turned to Porter, holding a copy of Toni Morrison’s new novel, “God Help the Child.”
“Martha convinced me that I want to read it,” Porter told her.
“Nobody should have to convince you to read Toni Morrison,” Stuhlman of nearby Round Pond said.
The two have known each other since they were about 40 years old, and Stuhlman used to work at the bookstore, Stuhlman said.
“They need to find somebody who realizes that this is the heartbeat of town — the bookstore, the cafe and theater,” Stuhlman said of the sale.
Next door in the cafe, Debbie Myers of Jefferson flipped through Jon Krakauer’s latest book, “Missoula.” Myers and her husband, David Rosenfelt, recently moved from Los Angeles, and Maine Coast Book Store became part of Myers’ morning routine.
“After my workout at the Y, I come here and get tea and read for a couple of hours,” she said. “It’s my time.”
With so many smaller bookstores now closed, Maine Coast Book Shop also draws readers from up and down the coast who seek the warm, relaxed atmosphere and wide selection of books.
“Around here, there are so many readers,” she said. “And I always wanted to have something for everyone. People read for different reasons. I love finding out their favorite book, talking with them — I love being part of it.”
And then, about this time each year, summer residents drive right past the store on their way to Round Pond and other communities in Bristol, just south of Damariscotta.
Porter owns the Lincoln Building with the Lincoln Theater in a co-op arrangement.
The theater sits atop the bookstore on the second floor of the historic building, and the two entities work to support each other, according to the theater’s executive director, Andrew Fenniman.
“The theater and the bookstore are like the epicenter of economic drivers in the town,” he said. According to Fenniman, 443 events drew just more than 23,000 visits to Damariscotta in 2014 — all in a town of just more than 2,000 people.
Although the theater sells refreshments, Fenniman said moviegoers are welcome to bring a “fancy coffee” from the cafe with them to a show, and frequently linger in the bookstore before and after events.
The two organizations split the cost of a new roof featuring copper works, he said, and both are committed to maintaining the quality of the historic building.
“I wish them the best,” he said of the Porters. “I’m going to miss having them around.”
Frequently, Maine Coast Book Shop will host authors, some of whom speak in the theater.
Maine Poet Laureate Wesley McNair spoke on April 30, and former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell will visit the theater on May 15.
“They’ve all drawn huge crowds up in the theater,” Porter said, while smaller events hosted by the bookstore take place next door at Skidompha Public Library.
Porter said events coordinator Nicole Oliver lures authors to the bookstore with “her intelligence and her passion. They can’t turn her down.”
The bookstore and cafe — both the business and half of the building — have not been officially listed, according to agent Paul Siegenthaler, and the price won’t be released until a buyer signs a confidentiality agreement.
The assessed value of the entire building is $800,400, according to Damariscotta assessor’s agent Jurate Barnes, with $419,100 assessed to the nonprofit theater and $381,300 assessed to the bookstore and cafe.
The store itself “hasn’t been that profitable in the last couple of years,” Porter acknowledged.
While she and her husband do draw salaries, she said, “some of the employees get paid more than I do.”
She said she wouldn’t recommend buying the shop as a moneymaker, but an ideal fit for someone who truly loves books.
Porter said she realizes the sale may take a while. But she’s confident the shop — and the community — she loves will draw the right buyer.
“What I love about this place — and I felt it from when I first came here — is they’re very real people,” she said.