It opened on a bit of a whim, really. It wasn’t as if Claire Jones had nothing to do. She was head librarian at Brandon High School.
But, looking for something to fill in those little blanks in life, she opened The Book Stall, a used book store, across from Brandon Regional Hospital in 1978. Now, 14 years after her retirement from Brandon High, the tiny store, now located down the street from its original location, is still going strong.
And not a lot has changed. There is no running list of customers, no computer keeping track of credits, though it does have a facebook page. Customers get credit slips for books they bring in, but if they lose them, there’s no backup. They have, however, started accepting credit cards in the past year.
Mostly, there’s the small team of long-time employees that keep it rolling along. Those employees act as the walking card catalogs for the shop. If you ask, they will seek it out among the 30,000 paperbacks jammed on to long yellow shelves.
“I just needed to do something different,” Jones recalls. “A bunch of us were chatting and they suggested I should open a book store.”
Partners have come and gone as life has changed their direction, but, much to her amazement, Jones and The Book Stall are still together.
“We’ve had some loyal customers over the years,” she said, ticking off first names. There was the little old lady with a walker that came in regularly to get books for her mother, who was too frail to make the trip. There is Billie, a long-time customer who visits nearly weekly. And the woman that spends two hours at a stretch in the shop, reading one book, then buying another.
“We get a lot of ‘I’m so glad you’re still here,’” Jones said. But what readers come for has drastically changed. They used to come in for Cliff or Monarch notes for class or seeking out books from the summer reading list. “Instead of romance, which was our bread and butter, now it’s fantasy,” Jones said.
And the crew has managed to put together an entire section just on vampires, twisted fairy tales and such.
Since the recession hit about the same time that electronic books like Kindle and Nook hit the market, it is hard to tell the extent of their impact, Jones said, but there has been an impact. Still, the customers keep coming.
Yvonne Bridge, a 15-year employee and a Valrico resident, said sometimes, people come in with little information, but want that one book.
“My greatest feat was when someone came in and wanted a book with a red angel on the cover,” Bridge said. “That’s all I had. I found it. Sometimes, you just have to keep looking until you find it.”
Arlene Stein, of Bloomingdale, who’s been working at The Book Stall for 17 years, said most people who walk in know what they want.
“They’ll walk right to the mysteries or sci-fi. In other cases, we are the walking inventory” and know which aisle to send them down.
Sometimes, customers bring their kids and Stein and Bridge will find the youngsters sprawled on the floor in the children’s aisle reading while their moms shop, or petting the faux bunny by the cash register.
“Some of them that came in as kids are now bringing in their own kids,” Stein said. They love that the bunny is still there.
Jones recalls one customer who didn’t like the way the books were categorized. After the customer left, they found that she had rearranged the books, Jones said with a chuckle.
As for the erotica section, another popular spot behind a door, sometimes, yes, they have to run the teenagers out of there. “It’s very popular these days,” Bridge said with a laugh.
The Book Stall is located at 604 Oakfield Drive, next to Della’s Delectables. Paperbacks are sold for half the retail price, plus a dime and customers can get in-store credits for books they bring in. To learn more, call (813) 685-8402.