As soon as Hollywood decides to make a movie that features a bookstore in the plot, the perfect model for the lead role would be Douglas Harding, owner of Harding Books & Maps store in Wells.
Harding has the looks and demeanor you’d expect for a book store owner. Earnest, with a no-nonsense approach to his vast collection of more than 200,000 volumes, Harding makes the point that he runs a difficult business. Yet, he is ready to flash a grin when amused and eager to offer an astute observation on all manner of topics – many he gleaned from the books that surround him and the customers he has helped over the years.
Casting Harding in a film about books should come as no surprise. In a labor of love, he has devoted a colorful life to the collection, displaying and sale of books, maps and prints for 45 years.
The first chapter to this distinguished career began when he bought a book collection at an auction in 1962. With this inventory he opened his first book store near his home in Nashua, New Hampshire. A short time later he acquired 50,000 more volumes from the Roger Babson Institute, the noted Massachusetts business school.
Harding describes his first experiences as learning from many mistakes. He said, “It takes 10 years just to find out what to do. The romantic notion that many people have about books doesn’t really work when it comes to running the business. Like any business, it requires some tough decisions and hard work. I had to learn as I went along”.
In 45 years it is obvious Harding has learned a lot about books and the people who buy them. He said, “People’s tastes change over the years and we have to be diligent and change our approach when necessary”.
One of the major changes he made was to move the business to its present location on Route 1, Wells in 1980. The building Harding purchased served as an antique shop. But, from the distinctive architectural design, it is clear that the building had a former life as a railroad station.
Like the many books it houses, the station had an illustrious history of its own. George C. Lord, the owner of the Boston & Maine Railroad, and son of the ship builder George Lord of Kennebunk, constructed the station in 1888. It served as Lord’s private rail stop when he vacationed on the property he purchased in what is today the Laudholm Trust. The location was called “Elms Farm” after the many trees that dotted the property. Its apparent influence persists to this day, since “Elms” continues to appear on Maine maps, even though no such town exists.
Through the years, Harding expanded on to the station building as his collection of books and maps grew to meet customer’s demands. Today there are 14 rooms packed from floor to ceiling and rows upon rows of books of every description. The largest of these rooms encompasses 8,000 square feet. Book lovers can find subjects that range from art to zoology, and every category in between. Harding boasts that a particular strength of the books he offers cover Americana, maritime, New England town histories, genealogy, arts and antiques.
Harding also carries an impressive selection of United States and world maps and prints, some dating from the 16th through 19thcenturies. Another important feature of the store is the noteworthy collection of rare and out of print classics.
To help him keep track of the vast collection Harding relies on the help of his daughter, Cheryl, and son, Kevin and a total of six employees. Cheryl has been with the book store for 21 years and can pin point any subject and most specific books with ease. Kevin has a 17 year history with the book store and is most often found entering and searching for books at the computer.
Although the ambiance of the building and books suggest an easy-going by-gone era, Harding uses the latest technology to help his customers find books they want. As a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America and the Maine Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association, Harding has the resources to locate almost any book in and out of print. Books can also be ordered on line by going to the website, www.hardingsbooks.com. The store is open year round, seven days a week, 9 AM to 5 PM.
So far, no Hollywood producer has invited Harding to “do lunch”. But film buffs can rummage through the shop’s impressive movie section to get a sense of the quantity and quality of books offered on the subject. It’s just one of the topics that keep customers coming back. To find more about how Harding plans to celebrate his 45th Anniversary in business, or if there might be a movie deal pending, call 646-8785.
– May 8, 2007