BELFAST — Call it timing, circumstance or just plain chance. Regardless of how you view it, a Belfast bookstore and a local bookseller seemed destined to coalesce.

Islesboro resident Craig Olson purchased the inventory of The Old Professor’s Book Shop on Belfast’s Main Street this summer and has now reopened the venerable business as Craig Olson’s Books.

Olson has been a used and rare book dealer for 20 years. For 15 years he owned a bookstore on Islesboro, while also operating an online sales platform. He previously owned a bookstore on Belfast’s Main Street in 2011, and the lure of being in a shop never left.

“Ten years ago, I had a shop here in Belfast in the lower level of Neal Parent’s gallery, and operated that for two years,” said Olson. After purchasing a 25,000-book inventory from a store in Camden, Olson was forced to make some hard choices.

“We needed to move that inventory and I had too much overhead running two shops,” said Olson. “We sold the shop in Belfast.” Olson also sold the bookstore on Islesboro in 2016, operating primarily online as Artisan Books & Bindery.

The pandemic altered Olson’s perspective.

“I realized during the COVID period that I really missed having an open shop,” said Olson. “I was just selling online and doing rare book fairs. I missed that interaction from the public, and learning from people.”

Fate intervened in April 2022 with George Siscoe’s passing.

“After George passed away Nancy (Crooker, Siscoe’s widow) really wanted to see someone buy the building and keep the bookstore,” Olson said. “We worked it out with Nancy that I would purchase the inventory, lease the building and open my own shop.”

Craig Olson’s Books has been open in the new Belfast location since mid-September. As he sells Siscoe’s inventory, Olson says the bookstore will take on a different persona.

“George sold a lot of new books in subject areas that he liked,” Olson said. “We’re not doing that. We’re just doing used and rare. We prefer the larger chains work with people looking for new books.”

Olson says the distinction between used and rare books is due to several factors.

“Anyone can sell something on Amazon or one of the other online platforms as a used book,” Olson explained. “With rare books it comes down to condition, knowing the background of the book, or how and where it was printed.”

The number of rare book dealers has diminished over the last few decades. It’s a business that is reliant upon knowledge, attention to detail, and trust.

“It is still a business that is very much based on trust between dealers,” Olson explained. “If you break that trust, it’s really bad.”

More than sitting in a shop, the life of a used and rare book seller is oftentimes chaotic. Olson consistently makes trips to far-flung locations to purchase inventory from estates and fairs. Occasionally, it requires a drop-everything-and-go effort.

Olson received a book from a client written in 1776 entitled “The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London.” Bound into the back of the book was a 40-page volume written by Sir John Pringle detailing the treatment of scurvy, information he obtained in letters from Capt. John Cook.

Olson conferred with colleagues to determine its authenticity and value, and quickly made a sale to another dealer and agreed to meet him the next day.

“It was a rainy, foggy day,” Olson recalled. “The client was in the ferry line and I walked off the ferry, gave him the book. He gave me a check for $20,000 and I walked back onto the ferry.”

Craig Olson Books will carry titles consistent with the Olsons’ interests without compromising the interests of customers and clients.

While the store won’t carry paperback books, it will be stocked with used, hardbound titles designed to attract a wide range of attention.

“My theory on a rare and used bookstore is that you have something that everyone could browse,” Olson said. “They don’t have to buy anything, but there should be something there to pique everyone’s interest.”