Kris Horton, owner of K. Horton Specialty Foods, works Tuesday evening at her shop in the Public Market House on Monument Square. Horton will close the shop, after 18 years in business.

Kris Horton, owner of K. Horton Specialty Foods, works Tuesday evening at her shop in the Public Market House on Monument Square. Horton will close the shop, after 18 years in business. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The cheese and food specialty shop that has anchored the first floor of the Public Market House in Monument Square for a decade is closing.

Kris Horton, owner of K. Horton Specialty Foods, announced on the store’s Facebook page Monday that the store would close and operations of the market “will be handed off to the good people at Kamasouptra,” which occupies an upstairs booth.

Horton has owned the specialty shop for 18 years and worked with William Milliken, owner of Maine Beer & Beverage, to open the market space in 2006, when the Portland Public Market, about a block away, closed. The market has become a fixture of downtown Portland, drawing a large weekday lunch crowd of high school and college students as well as office workers.

“We feel very lucky and honored to have worked with so many amazing employees and customers throughout the years,” Horton’s Facebook message reads. “To all of our loyal customers throughout the years, we have been happy to serve you. We will miss you and thank you so much for allowing our business to thrive. The Public Market House will live on.”

Horton said her decision to close her shop, which typically featured between 150 and 200 different types of cheeses from Maine and across the world, was not an easy one. But Horton said her husband is retired and they wanted to spend more time together.

“I recently married my sweetheart and we have things we want to do,” said Horton, who turned 60 last year. Horton said she wants to enjoy the rest of her life, and being tied to the daily obligation of running a business was not how she wanted to spend it. “Every day is precious and I feel as though I have used my days well. It’s time to move on.”

Her departure will mark the end of an era in leadership for the Public Market House, which has served as an incubator for small start-up companies. Horton teamed up with Milliken to help foster small-business growth.

Horton said Milliken sold Maine Beer and Beverage to the Bow Street Market in Freeport in November, before he retired. Now it will be up to the owners of Karmasouptra to manage and lead a new group of entrepreneurs.

Cheese is on sale at K. Horton Specialty Foods in downtown Portland as the owner prepares to close the shop.

Cheese is on sale at K. Horton Specialty Foods in downtown Portland as the owner prepares to close the shop. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Pho Co., a new restaurant featuring Vietnamese cuisine, which opened Dec. 7, has a booth on the second floor. Owner Hoamg Nguyen said he chose the location because of its “diversity” and because he saw a need for what he has to offer.

“I knew this area was missing authentic Asian cuisine,” Nguyen said. “Business so far has exceeded my expectations.”

The Public Market House has several tenants, including Big Sky Bread Co., Ameera Bread, which is new, and Granny’s Burritos.

When Bill Spear of Portland found out that Horton was leaving, he sent Horton an email that said “Nooooooo!” Spear has been visiting her shop once a week for more than a decade. He’s skeptical that her taste in exotic cheeses can be replicated.

Horton said she is confident her space – on the first floor at the main entrance to the market – will be filled, but she said it’s unlikely that another cheese specialty shop would operate there.

“It’s a sweet spot. It will be filled,” she said.

Horton said that in the past she would stock more than 150 different cheeses from Maine and countries across the globe, including New Zealand, France and Italy.

Each slab or chunk of cheese has been marked with a tag that contains a brief description of the cheese and where it was made. A former art teacher, Horton said she enjoys educating consumers as well as her own staff.

One tag explains that Bleu de Basques is cheese made in France from sheep that graze in the Pyrenees mountains. It has a rich, sweet and silky taste.

Another brand of cheese called Sea Smoke is made at Sunset Acres, a Maine-owned farm in Brooksville. Sea Smoke was described as the “holy grail of cheese” by Robert Elder of the Chicago Tribune, Horton said. Sea Smoke is a 9-ounce dense and creamy mold-ripened cheese with three layers of ash.

“What’s been important to me is that I try to demystify the cheese. I want to make it understandable and accessible to everyone,” Horton said. “I try to break down the barriers.”

The Public Market House at 28 Monument Square is owned by Bill Chen of Portland, according to Horton. There are condominiums on the third and fourth floors, above the first- and second-floor shops.

A cash-only clearance sale began Monday. K. Horton Specialty Foods will operate during its regular business hours until it closes sometime in middle to late January.