BELFAST, Maine — After 17 years, Left Bank Books in Belfast is changing hands.
Founders Lindsay McGuire and Barb Klausmeyer sold the 17-year-old business at the beginning of the month to employees Julia Clapp and Tiffany Howard, who said they want to keep the spirit of the bookstore firmly in place.
“All the things that were already great about it, we’d like to keep doing. I think any changes in the future will be pretty organic,” Howard, 42, said. “It’s a beautiful, small-town bookshop. It’s just a nice place to be. It’s like a little refuge.”
Even though the ownership is new, Klausmeyer and McGuire are planning to still be at the store a lot, but this time as employees and mentor-advisors rather than owners.
“I think that’s the best way, starting a business with that sort of support system built in,” McGuire, 66, said. “We never did, so we know what it’s like not to have it.”
When she, Klausmeyer, and Marsha Kaplan opened Left Bank Books in a historic former bank building in downtown Searsport in 2004, they were new to owning a business. And even though online retailer Amazon had not yet become the behemoth it is today, there were still signs that the future would not be rosy for bricks-and-mortar bookstores.
The women went for it anyway.
“I remember vividly when we first opened, thinking that books didn’t have a chance of survival, given Nooks and Kindles,” McGuire said. “But it’s interesting — the number of people who would come in and tell us that they had a Kindle but didn’t like it was striking.”
They catered to people who wanted to browse crowded bookshelves, have the tactile experience of reading a book and receive recommendations from other readers. They created a warm atmosphere and invited authors to give readings and meet their fans.
The three women each brought something special to their partnership. So did Jerry Kaplan, Marsha Kaplan’s husband, an accountant who was something of a silent partner.
The combination worked. By 2012, Left Bank Books had outgrown its Searsport storefront and moved to a larger space on Church Street in downtown Belfast.
“The hope and dream was to create exactly what we have created, which is a bookstore on our own terms in the middle of our town,” McGuire said. “We threaded all the difficult needles, I think.”
A few years ago, when the Kaplans retired, McGuire started thinking about the future of the store.
“I just didn’t want to wait until there was a health concern, or a death, or a tragedy,” she said.
They wanted to find a new owner who would love the store the way it is. They thought of Clapp, 30, their assistant manager, who had begun working there in 2013 when she was still a college student.
“She was an obvious candidate,” McGuire said. “But she needed someone to do it with her.”
That person was Howard, who began working at the bookstore in 2018 and came back to it after a stint at the Belfast Free Library.
Klausmeyer and McGuire presented their successors with a “very reasonable” transition plan, Howard said.
“They made it very doable for us,” she said. “I think that’s because they wanted people they knew to continue their store. We’re pretty committed to carrying on the tradition.”
“It feels like a real honor to be getting to take the reins,” she said. “This is really Lindsay and Barb’s baby, and we certainly take it seriously.”
That makes Klausmeyer, 75, feel good.
“It’s that feeling that the spirit and the style and the atmosphere of the bookstore will continue,” she said. “It felt really natural, and it will be nice to have some youthful energy here.”