Magic exists in this world.
It smells like the dog-eared pages of a well-loved paperback and sounds like the muffled quiet found between stacks of secondhand books.
I can get lost in a bookshop, scanning titles and running my finger along the spines of wizened hardcovers. I’ll sit on the floor between towers of stories, pulling one from the shelf and reading a few pages only to tuck it under my arm for purchase and continue on to another.
Worlds exist within the words of a book, and a bookshop is something I actively seek out whenever I visit someplace new. Bangor is still rather new to me. I moved here about ten months ago from a small town in Aroostook County and I’m trying to make this place feel a bit more like home. I’ve challenged myself to try something new once every week to discover all that Bangor has to offer a twenty-something like me.
A go-to bookshop was first on my agenda.
Pro Libris, located at 10 Third Street, stocks around 35,000 fiction and nonfiction titles in more than 30 categories. When I walked through its door on a snowy day in January, stacks of books enveloped me. I had entered a maze I had no desire to escape from.
Bookshelves nearly touched the ceilings and lined every wall. A radio murmured on in the background. I heard a slight cough and wondered who else might be hiding amongst the rows of stories, and what they might be reading.
As I ventured amongst the stacks, I wondered where the proprietor of the bookshop was. Without warning, he popped out from behind a bookshelf. A mass of mustache and hair preceded his appearance.
“Need any help?” he asked quietly.
“Just browsing! Thanks,” I answered with a smile. He disappeared back into the stacks just as suddenly as he had appeared.
Eric Furry opened Pro Libris in 1980 the bright blue sign hanging above the bookshop door told me. His nose was buried in a book when I approached him to purchase the paperback tucked under my arm. I wondered what his story was.
“That’s a good one,” he said, pointing at Neil Gaiman’s “Stardust”– my choice for the day. He asked me for a couple dollars for the book and I left quietly, but curiosity got the better of me. Who was the man behind the bookshop? When did he fall in love with stories?
So I went back recently, wondering if he might be willing to answer my questions.
“Do you want to hear the story about how it happened?” Mr. Furry asked me during a recent visit, a kind smile on his face.
He opened Pro Libris 35 years, 4 months and 23 days ago (it was 22 days when I visited him and he rattled off the number without a problem).
“When I was a little kid I would go to the library and come home with piles of books,” Mr. Furry told me. After he graduated from college with a degree in liberal studies, he went to work for B. Dalton booksellers in Oklahoma, then in Ohio and finally in Maine.
After work he would head down to Benjamin’s, a now closed Bangor bar. That’s where he met the man who would eventually help him start his own bookshop.
“He was a big burly guy,” Mr. Furry said. He didn’t look like the kind of man who should be messed with, especially in a bar.
But there was something in his hands that made Mr. Furry do a double take: he was reading Sylvia Plath.
Mr. Furry became a friend of his, and then one day, he got a phone call. “He called me up and said, ‘how would you like to open your own bookstore?” Mr. Furry recalled.
He had 8,000 books he offered to sell Mr. Furry for a more than fair price, so he went for it.
Now, 35 years, 4 months and 23 days after he opened, he’s still at it. He has made the place his home both for him and the occasional shop cat. The most recent was Keeper, who wandered in one day. He tried his best to find who she might belong to, but no one stepped forward, so she took up residence in Pro Libris.
Keeper passed away a little while ago. Mr. Furry said he misses her and still finds reminders of her every so often.
He lives next door to his bookshop and has even more books in his basement, which he searches through on occasion when customers have a request he can’t find in the store.
But things have changed a lot since he first came on the scene.
“I’m making half of what I did 20 years ago, but it’s OK,” he said with a shrug of his shoulders. “I can’t compete with the Internet. That and Kindles are what have been killing me the past couple years.”
But Mr. Furry doesn’t let things like that bother him. He said he has no problem with people who choose to read electronic books. He is simply a proponent of reading, no matter the medium.
“I love what I do,” he said.
I left Pro Libris with a new appreciation: for bookshop owners in general, and for Mr. Furry.
As I walked away he seemed to melt back into the bookshop, a solitary soul nestled amongst stacks of stories, always ready to greet his next customer.
So stop by — maybe he’ll point you to a story that will take you on a new adventure.