HOULTON, Maine — Lynn York of Houlton has played many roles in her life, but it was her passion for the Houlton community that she remembers most about him.
His warm smile and desire to see the city grow drew generations to his family’s bookstore in downtown Houlton for nearly five decades. She was also an integral part of bringing a number of famous artists to southern Aroostook County through her work with the Houlton Fair.
In a time before the Internet, the quaint bookstore founded by York’s parents was the quintessential place to stay up-to-date on national events, thanks in part to the store’s large selection of newspapers and magazines. It was also the place to buy books, comics, greeting cards and gifts. York died unexpectedly at his Houlton home on Monday, April 11 at the age of 77.
The store’s heyday was in 1979, when the company had about 2,600 book titles on its shelves, York said during a 2014 interview with the Houlton Pioneer Times. The advancement of technology and the Internet proved to be a crippling blow to the bookstore, as it has been in other industries.
As technology sent more and more people to places like Amazon for their books, the number of hardcovers and paperbacks in their store dropped to around 800 when the store closed in July 2014.
“It has to be done because it’s about time,” York said in 2014.
A veteran of the Vietnam War, York enlisted in the Army in 1968 and spent 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 begun to distribute them among people who were important to him.
York returned to Houlton in 1971 and went to work in 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 staple of historic downtown Houlton. In its heyday, it was one of the most beloved stores in the region. York’s mother worked at the store until he was 80, while his father worked into his 90s.
One of York’s most prized possessions was his Harley Davidson motorcycle. He was often seen in the summer months riding through the city center. He kept his motorcycle inside his house for his safekeeping during the winter months.
“He loved that bike so much,” said his niece Diane York. “He is sitting in the living room of his house.”
York was also known for the connections he had made in the music industry and was instrumental in bringing acts like the Charlie Daniels Band, Kris Kristofferson, and the Forester Sisters to Houlton as part of the Houlton Fair in the 1980s.
York formed a lasting friendship with Charlie Daniels, who invited him to his Bangor hotel room when he appeared for a concert at the old Bangor Auditorium, Diane York said.
Paul Cleary worked closely with York during 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 contact with a story about how he met them. Lynn was a great resource to me, as well as a friend and confidant. I’ll miss him a lot. Houlton lost a true ambassador.”
Both of York’s nieces worked at the store, where they learned valuable lessons about customer service.
“You had to make sure you knew how to wrap presents with good creases if you worked in the store,” said Jody York. “And all the bills (in the cash register) had to go to the bank.”
News of York’s passing sparked an outpouring of support from the community.
“There was never a day when I was downtown getting ready for an event that Lynn didn’t stop by and ask me what I was doing and if she could help me,” said Jane Torres, executive director of the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce. “Of course, that always became a story of some great life experience that she had had.”
Torres said that after his business closed, York continued to set up a table in downtown Houlton every summer for the annual Midnight Madness celebration, where he earned a new name as the “snow cone” man.
“We will miss his snow cones in Midnight Madness, the lightsabers he provided to children, and his generous donation year after year to make sure the fireworks at Riverfront Park happened for his community,” Torres said.
Robyn Nickerson Skvorak, a former Houlton resident who worked at Yorks Books while in high school, said the employees became like family and were treated like royalty.
“There was never a dull moment working there. You could go into bookstore work and end up pitching a tent in the field 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 post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. Lynn’s family is devastated by the loss of her and through their grief they wish this message would help others who are struggling.”
In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations be sent to the Maine Veterans Project, 207 Parkview Avenue, Bangor, Maine 04401. At their request, there was no funeral service. A graveside service will be held at a later date.