WATERVILLE — Children’s Book Cellar in downtown Waterville will get a welcome facelift, thanks to a grant awarded by thriller writer James Patterson.

Patterson, who has sold more than 300 million books including the Alex Cross series, “Along Came a Spider,” and the “Women’s Murder Club,” announced in 2013 that he would give $1 million to independent bookstores that are invested in children’s literacy. So far, he’s given more than $500,000 to 98 stores, including the Children’s Book Cellar.

Ellen Richmond, owner of the bookstore on Main Street, applied for the second round of Patterson’s grants in February, finding out last month that she was awarded roughly half of the $10,000 she asked for.

Richmond has owned the store, which opened in 1987, for 12 years, and says independent bookstores are feeling the pinch of the economy and the Internet.

“It’s never been a get-rich-quick business, especially now,” Richmond said. “Most of us who are booksellers are in it because we have an addiction.”

With the rise of e-readers and online bookstores, independent bookstore ownership has declined for most of the last decade. Membership in the American Booksellers Association, a trade group for bookstores, has fallen from about 2,400 in 2002 to about 1,900.


Yet stores like Richmond’s, cluttered with children’s books about outer space and sharing and imaginary friends, make the most of the tangible effect of flipping through the pages of a book with a child, which cannot be substituted by technology.

The fact that her customers appreciate the store showed in their support of her campaign.

According to a 2011 poll by Pew Research Center, 81 percent of the nearly 3,000 people surveyed preferred reading a printed book to a child over an e-book.

“Do you want to sit with a kid in your lap and read something on an iPad?” Richmond asked. “It just isn’t the same as turning the pages. Children’s books are a little different.”

It’s that encouragement toward youth literacy that earned Richmond and her store the grant. She applied for the grant in February and noticed a section of the online application where supporters could recommend her store for the grant.

“I said, ‘OK, this is kind of shameless, but if you’re going to support me, can you go in and sign up?'” Richmond said Friday, shortly after depositing the grant money into the store’s account.


In mid-April, Richmond got an email from Patterson’s representatives, asking for a 500-word-or-less response, detailing how much money the store was looking for and what it planned to do with it.

“Basically I said that obviously I’d love $10,000, which I thought was the most you could ask for, but said I would be happy with anything,” Richmond said. “I have this long list of things I’ve been trying to tackle since I bought the store.”

Those projects include refinishing the floor and ceiling, expanding the store’s outreach with area schools and updating the signs on the back of the store, which faces The Concourse.

About a month after she submitted her request, Richmond got an email from Patterson, detailing the good news.

“Thank you for submitting a grant proposal on behalf of Children’s Book Cellar,” the email read. “I enjoyed reading your submission and it was clear to me that Children’s Book Cellar would be a worthy recipient of the fund. Very worthy.

“The work that you and your fellow booksellers do is saving lives every day,” the email continued. “It’s saving our country’s literature. You support schools. You make our communities better places to live. You help create a lasting love of reading in children and adults. I hope that this check will allow you to continue doing good work in your store.”

Children’s Book Cellar is the second Maine bookstore to get the Saving Bookstores, Saving Lives grant. Percy’s Burrow in Topsham got one in the first round of recipients this year.

The Maine stores are two of nearly 100 that have been awarded grants so far. About 15 of them are in New England.

“I’m pretty certain that I’m no more deserving than any other booksellers I know,” Richmond said. “I was just fortunate.”

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