Drop Me A Line, a Portland gift-shop institution with the area’s best selection of cards featuring randy naked people, will close in late May after nearly 16 years spent broadening the minds of birthday boys and girls everywhere. Owners Jim Neal and Roger Mayo will shutter the store at 87 Market Street on or around May 26 (depending on sales) to pursue separate careers in art and massage. Neal says Drop Me A Line has struggled to remain profitable in a competitive retail market with ever-increasing rental and insurance costs.
“We’ve been thinking of it for six years, trying to decide when would be quitting too soon and when would be too long,” he explains. “We had to take a long, hard look at how tired are we, how motivated are we. [Running the store] has exhausted us financially and emotionally.”
Drop Me a Line was one of the first stores in Portland to cater to the gay and lesbian community. Today, the store features must-haves like a squawking rubber chicken in a purple polka-dot bikini, “Doga” yoga for dogs, and sassy magnets with pithy sayings like “Women: Half the population, all the brains.”
Neal says the business, which occupied storefronts on Congress Street beside the State Theatre before moving in 2004 to the Old Port, was profitable during the early years in the 1980s but began to decline after a sales peak in 2000. Neal blames much of Drop Me A Line’s financial woes on competition from area big boxes like Target and Wal-Mart.
“Every one of those stores has taken away a little bit of our business,” he says.
After cutting the payroll and struggling to pay health benefits, Neal and Mayo decided the only way to survive would be to add another store or to sell online, both of which would require more energy than either man was willing to dedicate. While Neal looks forward to his new life making handmade paper and going back to school for something — he’s not sure what yet — these final liquidation days (“Everything must go! Nationwide Warehouse! Nationwide Warehouse!” he says) have been bittersweet.
“A man came in here the other day and he said, ‘Oh my god, I bought my first gay magazine in your store.’ And then, like 10 or 15 minutes later, this girl said, ‘I saw my first penis in your store. I think it was on a card or something. I think I was like seven or eight years old!’”
While the proprietors of the new wave of Old Port boutiques, like the chic clothing shops Bliss and Betsy’s, would surely blush at the mere thought of penises during work hours, Neal revels in his version of shock and awe, even if it will soon be the old way.
“I love it!” he says gleefully. “I love it!”
Love it yourself, for about two more weeks.