HALLOWELL — If you happen to be looking for “Honolulu: Port of Call,” by Joe Gores, or a 40-year-old copy of “The Business of Publishing,” an anthology put out by Publisher’s Weekly and discarded many years ago by the University of Maine campus library in Portland, you’re in luck, but only for a few more days.

At the end of the week, after 24 1/2 years, Edda Briggs Thiele is closing up shop at RiverBooks, a tiny slice of a structure wedged between The Liberal Cup and the building that houses Vinolio on Water Street.

The truth is, Briggs Thiele said Monday, her landlord made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. More than that she will not say, other than to add Jon Lund was the single most important reason for the store’s success, second only to books and her customers.

“He kept me even after he sold the building next door to the Liberal Cup,” Briggs Thiele said.

She’s hoping to find a new location for a store in Hallowell, probably after the winter and maybe after she wins the lottery.

“Change is God’s way of moving us along,” she said.


It’s not entirely clear that anyone who isn’t Briggs Thiele could have made a bookstore that operated on the honor system work for so long.

It didn’t start out that way.

Briggs Thiele first worked in the more traditional retail model of selling books at a Mr. Paperback store in the Capitol Shopping Center in Augusta. She also worked, she said, for the now-defunct Borders and Waldenbooks chains, and she started to learn the trade.

“Selling new books and used books isn’t so very different, except for the price,” she said.

Along the way, she picked up a master’s degree in library studies, and instead of working in a library, she opened RiverBooks.

“It was obvious early on that to sit in such a small space for hours waiting for customers — I’m a talker,” she said. “It was driving me crazy not to have people come and go.”

So she would head off down the street to Slate’s or someplace else in search of conversation and interaction.

Over time, people started leaving cash for the books they took. It worked for the most part, but every few years, she said, a new band of teenagers would come through and help themselves to the stash.

“If anyone took money, they needed it more than I did,” she says, more philosophic than disappointed about the loss.

So people started leaving checks instead at her request. Their other option was to drop a check in the mail. Sometimes they would make donations.

“I loved going to the post office,” she said. “I would get all this cash in the mail. I’m Jewish, but it was just like Christmas!”

The question that’s posed to her most often is whether she has read all the books in RiverBooks. She has not. The books she sells don’t necessarily reflect her personal tastes. She would not have chosen to stock regional Maine and New England titles, but many books she sells are donated, and as it turns out, the regional titles have sold pretty well. If you have looked through the crates of 25-cent books stacked outside, chances are you have a good understanding of what doesn’t reflect her taste.


The news of RiverBooks’ closing already was spreading on Monday, thanks to some word-of-mouth and a post on social media, inviting friends to come down and help pack. It was met with near universal distress.

Nearly everyone, it seems, has a story about Briggs Thiele.

T.J. Holbrook, knit hat slightly askew as he watered the tubs of mums outside the Liberal Cup brewery pub on Monday, said he picked up a copy of “Leviathan,” by Thomas Hobbes, from Briggs Thiele. The more formal title is “The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil,” and, as he explains, “It’s philosophy.”

“I also got a completely blank book from Edda,” he said. “One day I thought I wanted one, and I ran into Edda. She had one and she set it aside for me. It’s the only one she ever had.”

It took a week or two to complete the transaction, because of conflicting schedules, but Edda eventually got the book into his hands.

“I don’t know what else will be able to go in there,” he said. “It’s a little piece of Hallowell we won’t be able to get back.”

From time to time, people would stop in at WhipperSnappers, just a couple doors north of RiverBooks, to find out who was running the place.

“The door would be open, and nobody was there,” said Lynn Irish, a city councilor who owns the fabric and quilting shop.

Irish has a working knowledge of the honor system. When she did craft fairs, long before she started accepting credit cards, she’d allow people to take items and pay for them later, and they always paid.

Irish said she’s sad to see RiverBooks go, because it will take some of Hallowell’s character with it, and because the loss of retail businesses along Water Street.

“We used to have a nice balance of shops and restaurants, but now we seem to have more restaurants,” she said.


The practical matters amount to this: The bookstore, as small as it is, needs to be emptied of its contents by the end of the week.

The shelves that line the narrow space extend up at least 7 feet, and books are piled even higher on the top of them. Books are stacked on stools and tucked sideways wherever they fit.

On Monday, with a U-Haul parked out front, dozens of boxes, two friends and her daughter, Briggs Thiele started the tedious work of packing and moving books. Even with a dozen boxes stacked in the back of the truck, no noticeable dent was made in the inventory.

After Tuesday, whatever is left, except the Halloween books, will be 25 cents apiece.

As for Briggs Thiele, she said she might be selling books on the Internet. She’s written some murder mysteries, so she’s planning to finish them up and find an agent. She’s also working on a family memoir, of family members in Estonia; some were Jews and others were Nazi collaborators in World War II.

On Monday, though, with the bulk of the largely wretched task of packing and moving books ahead of her, she reflected on her time on Water Street.

“I’ve heard it said that there are some people who have to write, and there are some people who have to paint, or compose or write music or act,” she said. “I have to read, and I have to sell books.”

It’s not immediately clear what will happen to the building; Lund did not return a call for comment.

While Briggs Thiele said she has no regrets, she did after a moment, say this: “The next time I open the business, I’d like it to have a bathroom.”

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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