Located on Congress Street, directly across from the Portland Museum of Art, Yes Books is something of a local institution. Like a cat with nine lives, it has survived a location change, a change in ownership, changes in the face of the city, and the move toward digital content, and yet it continues to be a Portland landmark: certainly one of the best used bookstores in a city full of used books, and possibly one of the best in the northeast.
The front window is inviting, and you often see people step up to the doorway, and suddenly pause, a bit overwhelmed (presumably) at what they see inside. What lies inside is about as far from the wide isles and sparse stacks of Books-A-Million as you can possibly imagine. Just books, books, and more books, as far as they eye can see, shelved from the floor to a point well above your head. Narrow isles lead back into the depths of the store, and books are stacked up on the floor, tucked into crevices. It can be overwhelming.
But it is also a treasure trove for the serious reader. A good friend of mine regularly calls it “the cave of wonders” because, somehow, every time she goes in, she manages to almost immediately find some obscure book she’s been looking for forever.
The stacks really do seem to stretch on forever, but as you look closer, you will realize that the shelves are neat, and well organized by topic. Yes books claims to have “emphasis on history, literature & art” but really there are books about every topic you can imagine, plus a few that you’ve never thought about.
The sign on the window emphasizes that they also sell prints, and you will find box after box after box of carefully curated vintage prints and plates in a long line just inside the door. Framed prints line the walls, along with the occasional knick-knack.
It’s possible that the thing I love the most about Yes Books (after the general immersive experience of walking to the back of the store and being just surronded by books) is the way that old books and new coexist together. They absolutely have hundreds of rare, antique, or just plain vintage books. But you can also find lightly read copies of recent best-sellers and modern classics (I counted at least a half-dozen copies of Harry Potter books) for a fraction of their cover price. Which is not to say that the books at Yes are cheap — they are not. The least expensive book I picked up during my most recent visit was $4.00. But these are clean, well-kept books with good bindings that have been curated with an excellent eye. In a lot of ways it feels much more like someone’s personal, eclectic library (which is more or less how it started, under a prior owner in a long-lost location) that you’ve been granted access to than like a real retail space.
Yes Books is located at 589 Congress Street in Portland, directly across from the Portland Museum of Art. You can Like them on Facebook, connect with them on LibraryThing, or buy from them on-line via AbeBooks. You can also read some reviews of the shop on Yelp.
Distance from the Maine State Pier: nine-tenths of a mile, about a 15-20 minute walk.
Still can’t find them? Here’s a map!