Nearly everything about their decision to open a new bookstore in Portland appears counterintuitive.

Emily Russo and Josh Christie, both in their 30s, will open Print: A Bookstore at the base of Munjoy Hill in mid-October. The book trade, given up for dead a decade ago, seems like a risky venture for these two first-time entrepreneurs. On the peninsula alone, Portland already has two hyper-local bookstores that specialize in new titles, both of which are well supported by a loyal book-buying public. There are other bookstores off the peninsula and in neighboring towns, and Portland is home to several used bookstores, as well.

Portland probably doesn’t need another bookstore. But for Russo and Christie, Print isn’t about serving a need as much as it is about elevating the book to a higher, almost sacred, level. In this digital age, when our bonds to tangible objects seem less secure and more fleeting, Russo and Christie – children of this era who became friends through Twitter – are opening a business that celebrates an object nearly as old as man.

They considered calling their store Paper, but that felt ambiguous. Print suggests something weighty and substantial.

“We just really love books,” Russo said. “We want to celebrate the book.”

Russo saw herself as a city girl. When she was 18, she wanted to live in Boston or New York, or maybe San Francisco or Seattle.


But definitely not Waterville, where she grew up, and almost certainly not Portland, which, cool as it was back in 1998 when Russo graduated from high school, was still Maine.

She needed to get away.

Christie never wanted to leave. He grew up in the Knox County town of Washington, went to college in Farmington and has lived outside Maine only for about six months, when he went to Alaska on a student exchange. He can’t imagine living anywhere but Maine.

They will open the 1,900-square-foot store in mid-October in Portland’s East End, in rented retail space on Congress Street, formerly occupied by designer Angela Adams.


The two are linked by their love of books, by parents who love to write and by a desire to stay in Maine – or in Russo’s case, an unlikely desire to come home. As did many of her peers, Russo left Maine as soon as she graduated from high school and went off to college in Pennsylvania, “and I didn’t expect ever to move back,” she said.


Books and family brought her home. As she grew older and began a family of her own, she missed Maine and fell in love with Portland.

The 36-year-old is the daughter of Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Portland resident Richard Russo, who is consulting with Print and will use his clout and connections in the book world to elevate readings, signings and author talks into high-profile events.

She did her big city-living in Brooklyn. Her move home last year directly corresponded with her parents’ move to Portland from the midcoast in 2012 and the birth of her son, her second child, in 2013.

“We started coming to Portland a lot more, and I just fell in love with it,” she said. “It was in the back of my mind to open a bookstore for a very long time. During one of those visits, I said to my husband, ‘How do we move back?’ ”

Emily Russo contacted Christie, a friend and professional colleague, to gauge his interest in a partnership.

Christie, 31, also is a veteran bookseller and a former Portland resident, now living in Yarmouth. He most recently worked as the manager of Sherman’s Books and Stationery on Exchange Street in Portland and as the buyer for the statewide five-store Sherman’s chain.


Christie and Russo knew each other through New England book channels. Because Maine is a small state and the state’s literary community is even smaller, their paths had crossed. He served on the board of directors of the New England Independent Booksellers Association when Russo worked at the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, Massachusetts, before she moved on to Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn.

Like Russo, he was born into the literary fold. His late father, John Christie, wrote books about Maine life, and the younger Christie has written, co-written with his father or contributed to five books, primarily about Maine beer and Maine outdoors. Christie also writes an outdoors column for the Maine Sunday Telegram. He began working for Sherman’s in Camden as a summer and holiday employee while growing up and during college, and later worked full-time at Sherman’s Freeport store. When Sherman’s opened in Portland in 2014, Christie signed on as the manager.

Selling books is all he’s ever done and all he’s ever wanted to do, and he never really imagined doing it anywhere but Sherman’s.

“But at a certain point, you realize, when you work for other people, you can only go so high in the organization,” Christie said. “I knew of Emily’s interest in doing something like this, and the timing just seemed right personally and professionally.”


Their timing is good indeed. The industry trade journal Publishers Weekly reported last week that, for the first half of this year, bookstore sales were 6.1 percent ahead of the same time in 2015. Bookstores reported $5.44 billion in sales from January to June, up from $5.13 billion a year ago. Additionally, bookstore sales in 2016 were higher every month than they were in 2015.


Those figures bolster Russo and Christie’s belief that Portland can support three bookstores on the peninsula.

Russo and Christie wanted to be in the East End because they like the feel of the neighborhood and its distinction from the rest of Portland, including other neighborhoods on the peninsula. There are new restaurants and businesses nearby on Congress and India streets and Washington Avenue, and the bookstore will be walkable for thousands of East End residents, Russo said.

“We felt Portland could support a third bookstore on the peninsula, and we also felt that Munjoy Hill and the East End are becoming their own self-sufficient community,” she said. “You do not have to go to the Old Port to experience being in the city.”

The building they are in is being converted into condos, with 10 residential units above them. Print faces Congress Street, looking down India Street toward the water. India Street was the city’s original thoroughfare, leading people up from the harbor toward Munjoy Hill. Russo and Christie believe Print is primed to take advantage of what have been historic pedestrian traffic patterns that are re-emerging because of the density of residential development.

The bookstore will be sandwiched between a synagogue and a church, across the street from a health clinic and food co-op and surrounded by houses, condos and apartments. Buses rattle by within a few feet of the front door; the sidewalk sees a steady flow of pedestrians.

“It feels like we’re joining a real community rather than a tourist attraction,” Christie said, adding that Print also hopes to appeal to tourists, who may wander up India Street when they get off the cruise ships. “Our store is also perfectly located within greater Portland, equidistant from the Eastern Prom and the heart of downtown. I feel like Print has the potential to become a staple of the neighborhood, and the neighborhood has the potential to become the creative heart of Portland.”



The commercial space at 273 Congress St. is a work zone. Last week, a portion of the floor was opened up to accommodate new plumbing, and crews had begun knocking down an interior wall that will remake the previous storefront, from the small Angela Adams showroom that it once was into what will be a large, open and adaptable space with buffed concrete floors and bookshelves that can be moved to accommodate the dozens of author readings and literary-related events that Print has planned.

Aesthetically, Print is aiming for what Russo calls a coastal modern look, with custom-built bookshelves that will be finished in a pickled gray color. She wants the store to feel something like Portland Hunt + Alpine Club and Elements bookstore and cafe in Biddeford – rustic and functional in a rugged, industrial way.

The section for Maine authors will be immediately to the left when you enter the store, and general fiction will be off to the right. The store will spread out from the front to the back, with the registers along the left wall. There will be enough room to accommodate 125 people for author events, making Print one of the largest gathering places in the East End.

Aesthetics aside, Print will succeed or fail based on how it serves its community. And community, ultimately, is what brought Russo home to Maine and kept Christie here.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.