CAMDEN — It's fitting that the transfer of the Owl & Turtle Bookshop to new owners Ricky and Selena Sheaves came about thanks to the sharp ears of a local writer.
Poet and author Dave Morrison has had a great affinity for Camden's Owl & Turtle Bookshop, which has supported his book launchings and signing events over the years. One night last fall, through a mutual friend, the Morrisons got together with the Sheaves, who'd just moved with their two teenage daughters to Camden from Cambridge, Mass.
Faster than you can say "the beauty of small town networking," the Sheaves mentioned they were looking to buy or build a business to anchor them in their new community and Morrison happened to know that Nancy Borland, then-owner of Owl & Turtle, was looking to sell her bookshop.
"It was a fluky thing, one of those things that fell together. I couldn't have done it better if I tried," said Morrison.
For her part, Borland wanted the Owl & Turtle to go to good hands, as recent family circumstances had derailed her plans to stay fully committed to the store.
"When I purchased Owl & Turtle nearly two years ago, I felt I needed three years to make immediate and long-term changes before I could determine if it would, indeed, be viable in the long run," she said. "I was only able to go two-thirds of the way, which is a great disappointment. I love this little store and have tremendous respect for its almost 44 years of serving Camden and the Midcoast. If it were not for my changed circumstances, I'd be continuing with love and enthusiasm toward my three year goal."
"Nancy was always super helpful and excited about throwing parties in her shop," said Morrison. "Ricky and Selena are going to keep all the things that worked, but they also seem to have a ton of ideas. They seem like they're really looking at it with a fresh eye, which is great."
Ricky, who is originally from Ohio, and Selena, who is from California, had vacationed in the area for a number of years. They sold their house and moved to Camden last November.
"It was time to slow down and put our tendrils into a small community," said Ricky. "We come from small towns and we'd gotten to the point where our first careers had played out and we just decided to make the move. When we first came to Camden, we didn't really have an idea yet of what we were going to do. We were looking to open a business in the arts, something that might be conducive to the Maker Movement."
A software engineer by trade, Ricky is very much into the aforementioned trend in which people employ do-it-yourself and do-it-with-others techniques and processes to develop unique products. Selena, a book lover and writer, had some experience in the publishing world previous to moving to Maine. After working for a number of nonprofits, she was most recently the administrative manager for a start-up publishing platform, Libboo, which helps discover new authors online.
"It worked out perfectly," said Selena. "It turns out Dave was the first person that Nancy told about wanting to sell her bookshop, and after we met him, we were the first people he told about the opportunity. For us, the passion was there instantly. It's been a lifelong dream of mine to own an independent bookshop. After analyzing the numbers and doing the research, we decided to add a number of things."
For one, the Owl & Turtle Bookshop will soon include a comfortable café with free WiFi and seating for 12 customers. Ricky is doing most of the interior work himself and they anticipate opening the café mid-April. They'll offer espresso, coffee and cold drinks and will be looking to carry local coffee and local baked goods.
Beyond moving sections of the store around, the Sheaves are bringing a bold and ambitious vibe to the store, embracing the latest technology.
They hope to soon offer a section for e-books and e-readers.
"We'll provide a system where you can get a coffee and read a preview of the e-book in the store on our wireless network. You can then buy it and take it home on your e-reader," said Ricky. "Regardless of the delivery format, a bookshop is about curators of the collection — people who know the genre you're interested in and can turn you on to the right title."
Upstairs, they're clearing out a space for "Laptop Ledge," which will essentially be a bar with 8-10 stools overlooking the harbor, providing each seating area with connectivity to the individual's laptop.
"If you're on vacation, or you just want to hang out by the fireplace and work on your laptop, that's what it's for," he said. "We wanted to see what trends in the indie bookstores are clicking. We'll bring that fierce indie attitude to the book store and embrace that Maker Movement and arts community within the shop as well."
The Sheaves are keen to make the Owl & Turtle Bookshop a place where artistic and literary types want to gather. They're going to continue more author readings, and offer an event series called "In The Round," which is a term for having an audience on three sides of a stage.
"We'll open it up to poets, authors, artists and storytelllers," said Selena. They're especially interested in getting people in there to tell Maine stories.
They intend to change up the floor plan and significantly expand the inventory to include more adult nonfiction and fiction, more young adult with manga (Japanese comics) and anime sections, a larger used books section and even a few art supplies, like pencils and sketchpads. Also look for a new children's section upstairs, to be designed like a tree house.
Beyond what the Sheaves are bringing new to the Owl & Turtle Bookshop, they're also keeping some traditional elements intact.
"We're really interested in the history of the Owl & Turtle. We learned it used to be very well known for its maritime and nautical history and its charts, so we'll be consulting with a handful of people who can help us with this and we're planning on bringing that back," said Selena.
The Owl & Turtle is currently open Thursday through Sunday, noon to 4 p.m. while they're undergoing renovations. "In keeping with Nancy's winter schedule, the bookshop is closed Monday through Wednesday," said Ricky. In mid-April, once the coffee service is available, the hours will expand.
For more information visit their temporary website, owlandturtlebookshop.com. The new website, when live, will offer the ability to search the shop’s inventory and place special orders. For those who want to stay up to date on their progress, follow them on Facebook.
Kay Stephens can be reached at email@example.com