First-time business owner Emily Russo is not just optimistic that the new bookstore she’s opening in Portland this month will be a big success and everything she wants it to be. She is confident, even beyond confident, that it will.
And her confidence is contagious. So much so that any respectable lover of books wants to fast-forward to six months from now, when Print: A Bookstore will have worked out the kinks of a new business. Non-serious looky-loos will have checked it out and moved on. A knowledgeable staff will be hand-selling to loyalists. Captivating author talks and readings will be scheduled. And the shop will be well on its way to being the vibrant bibliophile mecca for which it was designed and intended.
Print, in the eclectic Munjoy Hill neighborhood of Portland, has been Emily’s dream for years. “I have always loved bookstores,” she says. As a child, her favorite part of her family’s summer vacations on Martha’s Vineyard was the frequent trips they’d make to the iconic Bunch of Grapes Bookstore. There, she’d dive in and not come up for air until she had selected many, many books that she’d persuade her parents to buy for her.
She worked for a book agent for a while after college, but she always felt that a bookstore was her career destiny. So she worked at a few well-known indie sellers—the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Mass., and Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn, N.Y.—managing events and running a store book group. Her aspirations were higher, though. “I really wanted to be a buyer, to decide what’s coming into the store, but I felt like I kept hitting a ceiling,” she says. “I knew someday I would open my own bookstore.”
A year after moving back to her home state to be closer to family, Emily, 36, and her business partner, Josh Christie, with the assistance of her father, a man you might have heard of, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Russo (“Empire Falls,” “Nobody’s Fool,” “Everybody’s Fool”), are making Emily’s dream a reality.
She and Josh, no slouch on the local bookseller scene and a published author himself, have years of bookstore experience between them. They hired bookstore design consultant Kate Whouley to help them make Print, with about 2,000 square feet of selling space, physically into the readers’ paradise they envision, a book-jammed, welcoming and comfy haven that will be part of the community and add to the rich culture of Portland.
Richard Russo, a longtime, outspoken advocate for indie bookstores, who was this year awarded the American Bookseller Association’s Indie Champion Award, provided some financial backing for Print. But more importantly, he’ll play a supportive (and influential) role, much, his daughter says, like award-winning author Ann Patchett (“Bel Canto,” “State of Wonder,” “This is the Story of a Happy Marriage”) does at the popular Parnassus Books, which she co-owns in Nashville.
“We’re very privileged to have my dad’s help,” Emily says.
Of course, you can’t be a good bookstore owner unless you love to read. Literary fiction is Emily’s favorite—she was in the middle of seven books at the time of our interview—but she’s reading more nonfiction and other genres these days.
She and Josh, she says, “are first and foremost readers ourselves. We will read as widely and diversely as possible. We’ll find the book for you, it doesn’t matter if we liked it or not. We want to find the book that will change your life.” (That includes digital books. “We praise reading in any form,” she says.)
Within the next few years, Russo hopes to be holding two or three events a week at Print. (That’s where her father’s influence should be put to good use.)
The months leading up to the opening were a whirlwind for Emily, who is a mother of a first-grader and a preschooler with special needs. Quicker than she’d imagined, “the stars aligned,” she says, from finding the perfect space in the old Angela Adams location on Congress Street to working out minute details with Josh and consultant Kate.
She recalls asking her husband, who works his job remotely from their South Portland home, “Am I crazy? Trying to open a business?” He was very supportive, she says, reminding her, “This is your dream.”
It’s the dream of all us other book lovers, too. Here’s hoping it comes true. Here’s hoping Print becomes a renowned destination bookstore right in our own backyard.
(And for your To Read List? Of those seven books Russo was reading, she was particularly taken with “Children of the New World” by Alexander Weinstein, “The Mothers” by Brit Bennett, “4 3 2 1” by Paul Auster and “Invisible Man” by Mychal Denzel Smith.)
Amy Canfield loves to read. She has been a book editor, a book reviewer for publications nationwide and is an editor at Current Publishing. She lives in South Portland.