This could be Maine’s most unique bookstore
THORNDIKE, Maine – Parked at a level crossing in downtown the small rural community of Thorndike is an unlikely destination: Boxcar Books, which is perhaps one of the smallest and certainly one of the most unique bookstores in the state.
Thousands of pounds line the walls of a boxcar that was built in Sweden and shipped to Maine decades ago. A small, pot-bellied stove kept the cramped space cozy on a blustery November afternoon as short showers of icy rain tinkled over the arched metal roof.
The store is the labor of love of Link Harjung, 35, of Troy, whose long-held dream of opening his own bookstore began to take shape when he became friends with the former wagon owner. covered.
“I always thought they were very romantic spaces,” he said of bookstores. “It’s definitely what I would like to do most of the time, if I could.”
Harjung, however, cannot spend all of his time in Boxcar Books. It is very difficult to make a living with a small second-hand book store, so he and his wife, Sofia Harjung, only keep it open on weekends. They spend the rest of their time doing other chores and looking after their toddler, Esker. Link Harjung chops firewood and takes care of construction and agriculture. Sofia Harjung makes handmade clothes through her company, Tilth.
“It’s not about profit,” he said of Boxcar Books. “It’s really likely to be viewed as a hobby by bookstore owners. ”
Still, the fact that the bookstore exists is a testament to the couple’s creativity as well as a vote of confidence in Thorndike, a small town that is getting smaller and smaller. Over the past decade, its population has shrunk by 13%, to 774 people, making it the community with the largest population decline in Waldo County. It is not the job of a small bookstore to counter this kind of demographic trend. Still, Boxcar Books is starting to become a weekend destination for book lovers, train enthusiasts, and people who simply appreciate a cool way to repurpose a space.
Beth Ineson, executive director of the New England Independent Booksellers Association, said that as house prices rise in the Northeast, there is a growing trend of bookstores that are not located in mainstream spaces. . Booksellers are looking for alternative locations because it is just expensive to open a more traditional bookstore these days, she said.
“People are getting super creative,” she said. “They are redefining what brick and mortar means. Sometimes it’s in a boxcar. And sometimes, it’s in a bookmobile or a pop-up shop in a hairdressing salon.
Diana Prizio, executive director of Thorndike’s nonprofit Farwell Project, is very happy that Boxcar Books has come to town. Her group is working to re-energize the community she has bluntly described as a “ghost town”.
“I really think the city could come back to life,” she told Bangor Daily News several years ago.
While Boxcar Books is not directly related to the Farwell Project, it somehow exists because of it. The Harjungs are singer-songwriters who traveled the country before landing in Maine for the past decade. The couple first lived in Portland before being drawn to Waldo County.
“We fell in love with original things, like Liberty Tool and the Bryant Stove Museum,” Link Harjung said. “Maine, especially this part of Maine, looks like one of the last little holdouts where it is not yet part of the megalopolis.”
After settling in Troy, he volunteered for Project Farwell and befriended Prizio, who owned the boxcar. She had bought it from the late Unity philanthropist Bert Clifford, who had come across a train while traveling in Sweden and decided to take it back to his home in Maine.
Prizio used the boxcar primarily for storage, but figured it would make a great bookstore. One day, Link Harjung was helping him clear up and heard his idea, and finally bought him the boxcar. He opened the bookstore in August 2019, ahead of the Common Ground Fair in September. The event normally brings thousands of people to Thorndike, but has taken place virtually over the past two years due to the pandemic.
“I really like Thorndike. I see the city center could be more active, ”Harjung said, adding that something about the community struck him the first time he saw it. “I thought it was such an interesting little village, with the network of trails and the beautiful old buildings. You can tell it was the center of something.
The bookstore is located between the Farwell complex and Garden Variety, a store run by Prizio. They are part of a group of village businesses that appear to be creating a critical – albeit small – mass in Thorndike.
“I love it,” Prizio said of the bookstore. “I’ve always wanted to open a bookstore in a boxcar. It was a lot more fun getting them to do it.
Boxcar Books, located at 29 Gordon Hill Road in Thorndike, is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.