Book Bank is turning a new page.
Despite facing competition from large chains and electronic readers, the independent bookstore is staying afloat by offering a narrower selection and a personal touch.
Book Bank, 13002 Seminole Blvd., moved across Seminole Boulevard to the Piccadilly Square shopping plaza after operating for 19 years in Largo Mall.
Amy Schmaedeke (pronounced SHMEH-deh-keh), who has owned the bookstore since 1998, said rent had risen too steeply in the Largo Mall shopping center. While moving across the street meant downsizing, the new location benefits customers by remaining nearby and allowing the store to specialize in its selection, she said.
"We wanted to stay really close by because we have a huge following of regular customers," Schmaedeke said.
New and used books line the walls of the shop, dotted with round stickers that indicate the used books' publication dates. On shelves of romance, science fiction and mystery novels, Book Bank includes recommendation lists: culinary crimes, dynamic duos or time travel.
Now that the store is smaller, Schmaedeke keeps a closer eye on what customers are reading, she said.
"We've scaled down, but we're more efficient because we don't keep books that are not wanted," Schmaedeke said.
Myrna Adams of Seminole, who has been shopping at Book Bank for about a year, said she prefers Book Bank's small size to corporate giants such as Barnes & Noble.
"Sometimes in larger bookstores, you can get delirious just looking," she said. "If they have a sharp eye and have some good topics, it makes it easy to shop."
Among some of the books in demand: supernatural fiction, said Robin Elder, who has worked at Book Bank for nearly 10 years. Especially Twilight, a young adult series about vampires by Stephenie Meyer.
"People started asking for Stephenie Meyer, and I had never heard of her," Elder said. "It took off from there, and it hasn't abated at all."
Schmaedeke also tries to stock books on the reading lists at local schools. She depends on parents to provide her with the schools' reading lists.
But meeting customers' needs isn't all about the selection of books, Schmaedeke said. The store tries to offer low prices — including a bargain room that touts 70-cent novels — and store credit through trading used books.
Angel Gianopulos of Seminole has been a customer at Book Bank since it opened in 1992. Twice a month, she brings in 25 to 30 used books to trade in for store credit, she said.
"Almost every time I go, I have a bag; and anything I've purchased that I don't want to keep, I go ahead and take that in," Gianopulos said. "It's so much more cost-effective."
Schmaedeke hopes that by offering services large chains don't provide, Book Bank can stay open in an economy that has been tough on independent bookstores.
According to an August study on the book industry by the Association of American Publishers, both chains and independent retail bookstores experienced losses in revenue over the past three years. In the same time period, online net sales revenue increased more than 55 percent.
"A lot of kids and people these days don't read books like they used to," Schmaedeke said.
Although it might be easy for people to find cheap books online or in chain bookstores, Schmaedeke said her longtime customers prefer the community aspect of an independent bookstore. Often, customers like to chat about their personal lives when they visit the store, she said.
"People like to come back to someplace that feels like home," she said. "They know us."
Katie Park can be reached at (727) 445-4154 or firstname.lastname@example.org.