Cold air from inside the Paperback Rack bends and twists the tattered paper sign taped above the large plastic bin outside without even the slightest opening of the front door.
A closer look reveals the words “Free books: please take” written neatly in black ink. What’s left in the bin consists of a travel guide, a cookbook and a few other books lightly scattered across the bottom.
This is just a few of the specials owner Lisa Hart offers to her customers to help clear out the old and make room for new titles. “Our stock is eclectic. We have almost any and everything here except for romances,” Hart said. “It’s a bookstore for people who like to think about what they read. We have an excellent religion section, philosophy, African-American, Native- American, fantasy, science fiction, poetry…we have a little bit of everything here.”
The recession, however, has forced Hart to use creative methods to attract customers to the little storefront shop off North Monroe. The several used book stores that operate within the area refer customers to one another and try to work together, she said, but she still stopped buying new books for the shelves and increased the number of clearance sales to save money without cutting the prices of books.
It’s always been her dream to work in a bookstore. For almost 20 years, she worked under the Paperback Rack’s former owner as an employee, grooming her for the day when he decided to retire. When he offered her ownership of the store in 2006, Hart dreamed of a long career born of humble beginnings.
The difficulties she faces now, however, are completely different from the ones the store faced two decades ago.
Hart said her competition goes beyond local vendors like Goodwill’s bookstores and Borders off Apalachee Parkway. Her competition, she said, is in the next shopping center over, in the aisles of Best Buy. The Kindle, a portable electronic book reader developed by Amazon.com, uses wireless connectivity enable users to download, browse and read books, newspapers, magazines, blogs and other digital media.
“I don’t know now. With the competition with Goodwill and the Kindle, you never know,” Hart said. “The owner before me owned it for over 20 years; I would love to be able to own it just as long…I don’t even have a plan as to what else I want to do but own this bookstore.”
Her bookstore’s distant future isn’t the only one in question.
More than 200 Borders branches across the country will be closed by the end of April, according to a press release from Borders management. Borders officially filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Feb. 16. Tallahassee’s Borders’ outlet will be spared.
The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York granted Borders $505 million in Debtor-in-Possession (DIP) financing led by GE Capital, Restructuring Finance. The press release further indicated that Borders would use the funds to continue everyday operations, including paying vendors, publishers and suppliers.
“Right now, we’re focused on closing those 200 stores and making the other stores, which we call our ‘go-forward stores,’ as profitable as possible, and we have no plans to open any other stores,” said Mary Davis, official spokesperson for Borders. “It’s an underperforming store. When we look at a store to evaluate whether it’s meeting our performance criteria, we look at a number of factors.”
Hart said the new leader in town to keep watch for is the Goodwill Bookstore and Donation Center. The non-profit organization has three bookstore locations within the Tallahassee area alone, and over 23 stores total in the Goodwill Big Bend category.
District book sale manager for Goodwill Big Bend Donna Jernigan said the store strictly relies on donations, and all proceeds go to the Goodwill mission and are poured back into the community.
“We’ve got a really good product and really good prices,” Jernigan said. “We put out about 500 – 600 items every day. Not everyone has a kindle, not everyone has a laptop. There are still those types of people who like to go to bed at night holding an actual book.”
The wide range of product attracts a myriad clientele, including home-schooling parents, teachers and even college students. The store has carried everything from autographed books to novels and classics printed in the 19th century. Former Florida Gov. Leroy Collins even donated part of his personal library to the organization. Jernigan said on the first day the store opened, it had in stock an extremely rare copy of the first edition of Sports Illustrated. Goodwill Bookstore also sells jewelry, purses, movies, DVDs and laptops.
And one more item: Kindles.
Even with a difficult path ahead for her bookstore competing with racing technology, Hart said “I wouldn’t mind owning a Kindle, myself.”