BUCKSPORT — There are plenty of birthdays being celebrated in Bucksport this summer. The town is turning 225 years old, the library is turning 130 years old and the Bucksport Bay Festival is turning 20 years old. But there’s one more neighborhood institution turning 20 this year, and it sells books.
“I thought I would have been able to retire by now,” said Andy Lacher, the founder and owner of BookStacks, the shop on Main Street that, according to its window sign, offers Books, Pretty Good Coffee, and A Better Bottle of Wine.
Since it opened in 1997, BookStacks has become a destination for locals and visitors to look for a new novel, to chat over coffee, or to simply pet Lacher’s cat Leo.
But the little red- and green-walled shop has faced challenges its entire life. When BookStacks first opened, the giant chain stores Borders and Barnes & Noble were dominating the book market. But now the store faces even fiercer competition.
“Truly all the stores, including Barnes & Noble, we have one competitor,” Lacher said. “And that’s Amazon.”
According to a 2014 Nielsen Books & Consumer report, e-commerce accounted for 39 percent of book sales that year, while bookstore chains such as Barnes & Noble accounted for 21 percent.
Independent bookstores such as BookStacks take up 3 percent of the market, the same share as supermarkets and drugstores.
“To a really good, serious businessman, this would say ‘Get out! This doesn’t make sense, you’re losing money, Andy,’” the 63-year-old Lacher said. “But I’m not a good, smart businessman.”
Lacher has had a lot of practice in his trade, though. The Utah native and Navy veteran started selling books in 1984, after he saw an ad for a clerk job at the Mr. Paperback location in Brewer.
“I always liked bookstores, and this ad popped up,” said Lacher, who recalled that he stood out to the manager for wearing a tie to his interview.
Lacher rose through the ranks to become a store manager and, eventually, the book buyer for the whole chain.
Years later, at a book convention in Chicago, he heard a speech by Andrew Young, who was the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President Jimmy Carter. Lacher remembers the speech to this day.
“He said ‘people who write and people who read change the world. And you people, you booksellers, are instrumental. You put the two together,’” Lacher recalled. “And I was just jazzed.”
Lacher had found a calling, but he could tell Mr. Paperback was crumbling under the weight of the Borders juggernaut. A Winterport resident at the time, Lacher noticed an empty storefront on Main Street in Bucksport.
“I was just like ‘I’ve got to try this,’ and I knew this building was here and vacant,” he said. “I started making plans and making phone calls.”
Lacher borrowed money from his brother, his father, the town of Bucksport and Bangor Savings Bank to start BookStacks. As the years passed, Lacher started selling coffee (in 2003) and wine (in 2013).
But unfortunately for Lacher’s business, customers can buy those things on Amazon, too.
“They can just click and they’re done,” Lacher said, about online shopping. “They don’t have to go to the effort of getting dressed, getting in their car, going downtown and looking at stuff they didn’t know they wanted and discovering something brilliant.”
Despite Amazon’s convenience, Lacher is optimistic about the future of BookStacks.
“It’s obvious to me this summer’s going to be our best summer ever,” he said, citing the newly opened Lighthouse Arts Center as a big draw for people to come to Main Street. “As Bucksport takes off, as the tide rises, so will I.”
Lacher’s job got a little easier this May, when he bought the building BookStacks inhabits. That means no more lease payments, which can help the little independent bookshop keep on ticking.
“I want it to continue,” Lacher said. “I truly want this to continue.”