HOULTON, Maine – Lynn York has worn many hats in her life, but it is her passion for the Houlton community that is remembered most.
His warm smile and desire to see the town grow has drawn generations to the downtown Houlton family bookstore for nearly five decades. He was also integral in bringing a number of famous artists to southern Aroostook County through his work with the Houlton Fair.
In a time before the internet, the quaint bookshop opened by York’s parents was the go-to place to keep up to date with national events, thanks in part to the wide selection of newspapers and magazines the store offered. It was also the perfect place to buy books, comics, greeting cards and gifts. York died suddenly at his home in Houlton on Monday April 11, aged 77.
The store’s heyday was in 1979, when the company had about 2,600 book titles on the shelves, York said in a 2014 interview with Houlton Pioneer Times. The advancement of technology and the internet has proven to be a blow to the bookstore, as it has been to some other industries.
As technology sent more and more people to places like Amazon for their books, the number of paperbacks and hardcovers in his store had fallen to around 800 by the time he closed shop in July 2014. .
“It has to be done because the time is right,” York said in 2014.
A Vietnam War veteran, York enlisted in the army in 1968 and served two tours in Vietnam. York had brought home a large collection of O-rings – large metal rings used to support cargo dropped from helicopters – from his time serving in Vietnam. He had recently started distributing them to people who were important to him.
York returned to Houlton in 1971 and went to work at the bookstore opened by his parents, Malcolm and Muriel York, while also serving as a substitute teacher. In 1973 he moved to Washington, DC, where he worked for the Central Intelligence Agency for two years.
But his family heritage called him back to Houlton in 1975 and he took over the family business – Yorks Books, which had become a fixture in historic downtown Houlton. In its heyday, it was one of the most popular shops in the area. York’s mother worked at the store until the late 1980s, while her father worked until he was 90.
One of York’s most prized possessions was his Harley Davidson motorcycle. He was often seen during the summer months riding through the city center. He kept his motorcycle inside his house for safekeeping during the winter months.
“He loved that bike so much,” said his niece Diane York. “He’s sitting in the living room of his house.”
Her niece Susan York said her uncle gave her solid business advice which she continues to follow to this day.
“He believed in giving people a chance and investing in them,” she said. “He knew I was into children’s books while I was working there and he said, ‘I’m going to give you $100 to invest in stocks. Let’s see what you can do with it. His confidence in me helped me land a job at the best bookstore in Boston.
He hired many people who then started their own businesses with his encouragement, she said.
York was also known for the connections he made in the music industry and was instrumental in bringing bands such as the Charlie Daniels Band, Kris Kristofferson and the Forester sisters to Houlton as part of the fair. of Houlton in the 1980s.
York struck up a lasting friendship with Charlie Daniels, who invited him to his hotel room in Bangor when he appeared for a concert at the Old Bangor Auditorium, Diane York said.
Paul Cleary worked closely with York throughout his time at the Houlton Agricultural Show.
“Lynn was a great guy who was always willing to help and helped a lot of people,” Cleary said. “He knew everyone and if you needed anything he had a touch with a story of how he met them. Lynn was a great resource for me, as well as a friend and confidante. I will miss him very much. Houlton has lost a true ambassador.
York’s three nieces worked at the store, where they learned valuable lessons in customer service.
“You had to be sure you knew how to wrap presents with nice folds if you worked in the store,” Jody York said. “And all the bills (in the cash register) had to face the bank.”
News of York’s passing sparked an outpouring of support from the community.
“There was never a day when I was downtown planning an event that Lynn didn’t stop and ask what I was doing and if he could help me,” said Jane Torres, Executive Director of the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce. “Of course, it always turned into an account of a great life experience he had had.”
Torres said that after his business closed, York continued to set up a table in downtown Houlton each summer for the annual Midnight Madness celebration, where he gained a new name as the “Cone Man of snow”.
“We will miss his snow cones at Midnight Madness, the lightsabers he provided for children, and his generous donation year after year to ensure the fireworks at Riverfront Park will perform for his community,” said Torres.
Robyn Nickerson Skvorak, a former Houlton resident who worked at Yorks Books while in high school, said employees became family and were treated like royalty.
“We never got bored working there. You might come in to work at the bookstore and end up setting up a tent in the countryside or making snow cones to sell on the sidewalk,” Skvorak said.
The Maine Veterans Project also posted a tribute to York on its Facebook page. “Like many Vietnam veterans, Lynn carried the heavy burden of PTSD and anxiety. Lynn’s family is devastated by her loss, and through their grief, they want this message to help others struggling.
In lieu of flowers, the family requested that donations be sent to the Maine Veterans Project, 207 Parkview Avenue, Bangor, Maine 04401. At his request, there was no funeral service. A funeral service will be held at a later date.