Longfellow Books is one of the two best bookstores I visited during my recent trip to Maine. Located in the arts district of Portland, about a block from the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow house, Longfellow Books is an excellent example of a hardworking urban bookstore with a core focus on serving its local community.
Run by a team of booksellers who clearly know their literature, the bookstore is organized with tables of notable fiction and non-fiction, shelves of new releases, the bookstore’s own bestsellers, and a large table of suggested books along with handwritten recommendations. They don’t rely on outside lists or picks or national bestsellers — an approach that speaks to the store’s confidence in its own selections and in its readership.
There are extensive shelves of new and used fiction, a section devoted to Maine titles, a cluttered community bulletin board, and a large, airy children’s room with a plush green couch.
Longfellow Books is also home to a foster cat, Prince, who is up for adoption. When I stopped in, Prince was nestled up on the couch with a young girl, who was completely absorbed in her novel. A group of fellow children made a point to introduce me to Prince: they knew a lot about him. He likes the couch in the children’s room, and the children, who sit with him reading.
With equal interest and authority, they told me about what they were reading. (They didn’t have favorite books, though, they were careful to tell me. “It’s too hard to choose,” one said.) One of the children slipped and referred to the bookstore as a library, then caught and corrected herself. I could see why she made the mistake: the bookstore, and especially its children’s room, had the comfortable, worn-in feel of an excellent library. It’s a place where children come to discover great books and then lose themselves in them, already three chapters in and completely immersed by the time they leave the store with their purchases.
Longfellow Books knows its literature, its readers, its community — and the store reflects that easy, comfortable confidence. They refer to themselves as “a fiercely independent bookstore.” And in our current bookselling world, thank goodness. Luckily for those of us who live too far afield to curl up with Prince on a regular basis, Longfellow Books also publishes an excellent newsletter with recommendations. For the latest, check out their website.