Employees and longtime customers of Mr. Paperback stores in Augusta and Waterville are shaken by the news that the stores will close within the next couple of months.

The Bangor-based chain, which has been in operation for 50 years, announced this week that it will close its 10 stores, laying off about 80 full and part-time employees.

“It makes me really said,” said former Augusta store manager Helen Paganucci, a longtime employee, Saturday. “I wish there were some way to keep it open.”

The closing is just the last step in a downward spiral that started with the Internet surge and the big box stores.

Paganucci worked for the Augusta stores for 21 years, from 1978 into the 1980s, and then again more recently, retiring five years ago.

In the 1970s and 80s “at Christmas we had lines of people waiting at the cash register,” she said. But in recent years “it just started to get slower, and got slower and slower and slower.”

But she added, “We always had our regular loyal customers.”

She was manager for a long time of the Turnpike Mall store when the chain had two stores in Augusta. The Turnpike Mall store closed “at about the same time Barnes & Noble opened,” Paganucci said.

The Augusta stores were started independently by Robert Foss, who also owned State Street News on State Street for many years. Foss, the son of the company’s founders, John and Evelyn Foss, later sold the stores to the Mr. Paperback company, which was owned by his family.

Paganucci, who now lives in New Mexico, said that the store was also one of the only places locally to buy gifts.

“It was a lot of fun working there,” she said.

Augusta resident Peter Dionne, a retired Cony High School teacher, said he has bought a Boston Globe every day for the past 30 years or more, starting at State Street news, then later at the Mr. Paperback in the Capitol Shopping Center on Western Avenue in Augusta.

Mary Dionne, Peter Dionne’s wife, said Mr. Paperback’s location on Western Avenue is convenient to their home.

“I think they give you more service than some of the big bookstores do,” she said. “But that’s what happens, all the little indie bookstores sell out to the big bookstores. It’s a sign of the times; it’s just too bad.” She said she particularly liked the selection of children’s books.

Although losing the store will be a loss for the greater community, Mary Dionne said she’s saddest for the employees who will lose their jobs in an economy where unemployment remains high.

The difficult economy may have hurt Mr. Paperback as well. Gardiner resident Nicholas Hester, who was in the Augusta store on Saturday browsing the magazine rack, said browsing is about all he can afford right now.

Hester also said he will miss the more personal environment of Mr. Paperback.

“Not that Barnes & Noble isn’t good, but it’s just nice having a Maine store around,” he said. “And who knows how long Barnes & Noble is going to be around? Borders just closed.”

Peter Thompson, president and CEO of the Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, said the closing is “unfortunate” and will be a loss for the Augusta community.

“For decades, many thousands of people in the capital area have relied upon Mr. Paperback as their principal resource for books, magazines, stationery, cards and gifts,” he said Saturday. “It is unfortunate that the business will be closed.”

At the Waterville store Saturday, Melody Brann, 57, of Oakland, said about 10 employees will lose their jobs. She has been a part-time worker at the 70 Elm Plaza store for three years.

She said the the announcement the store would close was shocking and her co-workers who will lose their full-time jobs were especially shaken by the news.

Brann said loyal customers still bought enough books to keep the traditional book store afloat. She said it’s sad to see those people lose their local bookstore.

“You have a lot of people who still want the books — the hardcopy and paperbacks — and now where are they going to go,” Brann said.

Customers at the store Saturday afternoon had similar reactions, with many recalling the years they spent shopping at the Mr. Paperback, which opened in Waterville in 1974.

Kristi Greeley, 39, of Albion, said she has bought countless books at the store for her 17-year-old daughter, whose school assignment once again had drawn the mother to the store Saturday.

“I’m going to miss it, because everything we ever needed for school books is always here, and it’s sad to see the community losing all the small stores,” Greeley said.

Mr. Paperback also has stores in Bangor, Belfast, Caribou, Dover-Foxcroft, Ellsworth, Farmington, Presque Isle and Skowhegan.

Co-owner Penny Robichaud told the Bangor Daily News that consumers aren’t buying printed materials as much as they used to with the Internet and the growth of e-books.

Robichaud and her siblings, Ralph Foss and Pamela Williams, own the company that was started by their parents in the 1960s. Their brother Robert Foss retired several years ago.

Robichaud told the Bangor Daily News they are still in negotiations to sell Magazines Inc. to Hudson LLC, based in Worcester, Mass. Even so, the distribution company’s 40 employees will be laid off. She said the distributor does not want the bookstores, which will be liquidated.

“We’re all just wrapping our heads around this this week,” said Robichaud.

“It’s painful,” said Mr. Paperback General Manager Jim McCree. “Over the years, we’ve had an extremely dedicated staff — smart people, faithful people. I can tell you it’s been extremely hard on the Foss family.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. 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.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.