ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — You’ve watched all the movies. You’ve binge-watched all your favorite streaming TV shows. You’ve tried and failed to make the perfect loaf of sourdough.
So what’s next in The New Weird?
How about an old-school pastime whose pleasures we might have forgotten?
“I have seen an increase in traffic,” says Michelle Jenquin, owner of Wilson’s Book World in St. Petersburg. “I have also seen an increase in young children coming in and getting reading material during [the pandemic].”
What You Need To Know
- Many Bay area residents have increased their reading during the pandemic
- Local independent bookstores have benefited from the interest in reading
- Online portal Bookshop.org helps support local bookstores through mail order
Jenquin “inherited” Wilson’s, at 535 16th Street North, when her father retired; her grandmother opened the store at its former location on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Street in 1971. When the shutdown arrived, she dutifully closed her doors, pivoting to curbside pickup and running specials like a grab-bag of a dozen books for just $20, leaving them outside the store in a Tupperware container for customers to collect.
“That took off like hotcakes,” she says. “It worked out really well.”
Jenquin reopened her doors in May. Masks are mandatory, and she allows no more than 10 customers in the store at a time. While new and used paperback fiction makes up the bulk of her sales, she’s seen interest rise in a number of timely topics during the pandemic.
“There’s no real rhyme or reason to anything… anything involving civil rights is very popular right now, of course, with the Black Lives Matter movement” she says. "Anything on the history of slavery has been a popular subject.”
“I think people are falling back on old pastimes that they previously didn’t think they had time for,” says Amanda Hurley, children’s book buyer for Tombolo Books, another St. Petersburg mainstay. “Reading is definitely one of those things. We also saw a huge uptick in puzzles, we couldn’t keep them in stock for a long time.”
Tombolo began life as a pop-up bookstore, appearing at various locations throughout St. Pete. Owner Alsace Walentine secured a brick-and-mortar location at 2153 1st Avenue South in the Grand Central District in December. The store is currently open for browsing by appointment only, though customers can call or visit the Tombolo website to place orders for curbside pickup.
As local public libraries across the region are trying new and novel approaches to engage with the community while they’re still shut down, independent bookstores are likewise branching out into new territory. One such option is Bookshop.org, a nationwide online portal founded to help support bookstores across the country. (Read: compete with Amazon.)
Independent bookstores can become Bookshop affiliates; when their customers order a book from Bookshop, the store receives the entire profit margin from the sale, sparing the store inventory and shipping hassles. And if a Bookshop customer orders a book without specifying their favorite neighborhood store, 10 percent of the sale (approximately one-third of the profit margin) goes into a pool that Bookshop distributes evenly among its affiliates every six months.
It can be a powerful solution for those who want to support local businesses, but don’t want to come out of isolation.
“It’s definitely a really good solution to Amazon,” says Hurley. “It helps people out who are on the go, who are always shopping online, and it’s a way to support independent bookstores.
“A lot of people have also just found us through the site, and now we’ve become ‘their’ bookstore and they order through our site.”
Here is a list of Bay area bookstores who currently have affiliations with Bookshop.org:
Book + Bottle, 17 6th St. N., St. Petersburg
Bookstore No. 1, 12 S. Palm Ave, Sarasota
Brant’s Books, 429 N. Lime Ave., Sarasota
Cultured Books, 833 22nd St. S., St Petersburg
Mojo Books & Records, 2540 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa
Oxford Exchange, 420 W. Kennedy Ave., Tampa
Tombolo Books, 2153 1st Ave. S., St. Petersburg