Here's something that doesn't happen too often: an independent bookstore turns 20 years old. Inkwood Books in South Tampa celebrates the milestone this month, marking the culmination of Carla Jimenez and Leslie Reiner's dream to create a community of book lovers. It has been no easy feat. Since opening in 1991, the store has weathered competition from big-box chains, online retailers and an explosion of e-books. Even Borders' recent closing has been a blow. Rather than weed out some competition, it has contracted the entire publishing business, resulting in higher prices and smaller profits. Still, Inkwood endures. In honor of their birthday, here are 20 reasons why the store has survived.
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1. Small but mighty, the store gained a national reputation among publishers who have been willing to arrange prominent authors for book signings, including Dave Barry, Emeril Lagasse and Carl Hiassen.
2. Every so often, it holds book signings at Four Green Fields. What's not to like about a good read over a pint of Guinness?
3. A cute Havanese dog named Lucky Girl greets you at the door. She doesn't read, but she can bark.
4. Jimenez and Reiner handpick each title and recommend what they like, not just the best-sellers. Reiner has a soft spot for historical fiction and children's books. Jimenez likes nonfiction.
5. The store at 216 S Armenia Ave. is housed in a 1920s yellow bungalow believed to have been owned by a librarian. The worn wooden floors creak.
6. Authors randomly stop in to say hello. This week, James Swain came by to show the jacket for his latest work.
7. The owners bought the building in 1991, rather than be subject to a lease, which has spelled doom for bookstores in these tough economic times. Last year, they paid off the mortgage.
8. The store has embraced e-books, rather than shun them as the plague for the printed page. Its website, Inkwoodbooks.com, has a section about buying digital books through Google eBooks. The owners want people to read. Period.
9. Free cookies and candy for customers every day.
10. The store wraps gift purchases and keeps a wrapped stash of favorites around the holidays for shoppers pressed for time.
11. Jimenez co-founded the Tampa Independent Business Alliance, which promotes buying locally. She also serves on the board of the American Independent Business Alliance.
12. One of Tampa's favorite politicians, former Mayor Pam Iorio, comes for a signing of her new book, Straightforward: Ways to Live and Lead, on Nov. 10.
13. The store collects sales tax on website orders from Florida customers. It doesn't necessarily help your pocketbook, but it helps the community and local schools.
14. Big selection of autographed paperbacks and hard covers, from Ace Atkins to Tim Dorsey. Try getting that with an e-book.
15. It donates to local events and charities. Need a gift card to raffle at an auction? Inkwood gives generously.
16. Reiner drives a Prius. Jimenez used to.
17. Inkwood is across the street from GreenWise. You can grab a book then read it over lunch or gelato at the cafe without getting in your car.
18. The store holds book group nights a few times a year with door prizes, book discounts and refreshments. The owners pick a bunch of their favorite titles and give short summaries of each.
19. Spotted recently in the parking lot: a car with the bumper sticker: "Teachers Are My Heroes.'' Teachers love the store for carrying hard-to-find titles that complement their lesson plans.
20. To thank customers for 20 years in business, Inkwood is offering 20 days of different discounts now through Nov. 20. Check the website for a calendar of deals and wish them a happy birthday.