Jeff Curtis, standing in the van, watches bookshelves being moved into his newest Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shop location at Topsham Fair Mall. Kristen McNerney / Lakes Region Weekly

The fate of independent bookstores has been uncertain in recent years, but Jeff Curtis, owner of Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shop, has turned the tide by dropping anchor at shopping plazas in Topsham and Windham this fall.

Curtis, who owns storefronts in Bar Harbor, Boothbay Harbor, Freeport, Portland, Damariscotta and Rockland, talked about changing the game for the brand that emerged in 1886.

“Once we were allowed to reopen (during the pandemic), there weren’t that many tourists, but we were seeing a lot of locals,” Curtis observed of the usually bustling villages many of his stores call home. “We realized they were getting up in the morning, they were saying ‘Oh I got to do this, this and this and I got to go to Sherman’s today,’ and so we were on their to-do list. An important part of the model is to be of interest to locals, and not just to strangers in town.”

To attract local shoppers, the stores in Topsham and Windham, set to open next week and by Oct. 1 respectively, are situated in strip malls, while theRockland location, opened in mid-July, is a standalone building with a “huge parking lot.”

Catering to various customer bases is just one way the Sherman’s ship has continued to sail. While bookstore industry revenue in the U.S. was anticipated to have fallen 5.7% annually since 2016 according to IBISWorld, Curtis said the physical experience the company offers has kept it steady over the years.

“A lot of people don’t know exactly what they want,” Curtis said. “They want to come in and look at different options, they want to look at physical books. …  It’s like the same thing with a hardware store. If you’re not sure of the right tool, you want to go to a hardware store and talk to somebody that’s actually dealt with your problem before. …That’s hard to replicate on the internet.”

Donna Hinkley, the Topsham store’s new manager who previously worked in Boothbay Harbor, said she’s looking forward to making the most of her time with customers.

“It’s actually going to be so much better being on one level,” Hinkley said. “Boothbay feels very separated (on two levels). But here, I feel like we can just show them everything at once.”

Sherman’s prepares for opening in Topsham just after Labor Day. Kristen McNerney / Lakes Region Weekly

Hinkley said she especially likes to show children around. “I love to help them pick the books out and get a coordinated toy.”

Robin Mullins, executive director of the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, said her daughter is “such huge fan of Sherman’s. She’s one of the kids that likes physical books. It’s nice for her to have a place to go locally now.”

Mullins said Sherman’s is “a book store we have desperately needed in Windham for a really long time.”

Curtis emphasized the store offers not just books, but a variety of other merchandise as well.

“We carry toys, we carry gifts, we carry greeting cards, journals and stationery … so a lot of people come for a mixture of things,” he said.

Among many reasons why bookstores like Sherman’s continue to stay afloat, Curtis said they provide a remedy to overstimulation in today’s age.

“I think more people are realizing that there’s a lot of information out there that in many cases is easier to get from a book,” he said. “And maybe with a little bit more authority, (a book) has some truth behind it.”

A visit to Sherman’s maybe a day trip or an errand, but for tourists and locals alike, it’s something to count on for the foreseeable future.

“A good bookstore is really an asset for a town,” Curtis said. “It brings people together.” And although Windham is is not a coastal town, “we’ll just say it’s the coast of Sebago.”

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