WESLEY CHAPEL — With its twin escalators, generous lighting and endless rows of books, it looks like a library in a big city that really spends money on libraries.
Residents got a sneak peak at Central Pasco's first bona fide bookstore when Barnes & Noble opened for three hours Wednesday night before making its official debut at the big grand opening of the Shops at Wiregrass this morning.
The two-story building has picture windows, a large children's section with a life-sized backdrop of Winnie the Pooh's Hundred Acre Wood, a wall of audio books and stations where customers can sample snippets of those as well as music CDs and movie trailers.
Not to mention about 200,000 book, music, DVD and magazine titles.
"I'm thrilled. It's just like being in New York City," said Cindy Fleming, president of the Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce. The mother of a teenage son, she either has to drive 45 minutes into Tampa to get books he needs for school or order online and pay shipping fees.
The store has drawn nothing but applause from folks in an area that for years has lamented the lack of a bookstore and a convenient branch library.
Wesley Chapel residents used to be able to check out books from the New Tampa branch library, but this year Hillsborough County officials put the kibosh on that because of budget cuts.
The new Barnes & Noble, off Interstate 75 at State Road 56 and east on SR 56 to Bruce B. Downs Boulevard, aims to help fill the void, with story times for kids, book clubs, author readings, easy chairs and other promotions.
"We want to be a resource for the community," said store manager Karen Dietz, whose love for reading really took off in fourth grade when her teacher read C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe out loud.
She said the typical Barnes & Noble customer spends two hours or more in the store.
"We don't mind if they want to sit and read a book," she said. "Eventually they'll buy something. The goal is to get books into people's hands."
Library supporters are happy to see such a nice bookstore, but they say it can't take the place of a publicly supported resource.
"It's apples and oranges," said Bill Parsons, a resident of Seven Oaks and a member of Friends of the Library. "Libraries have a lot of features bookstores don't provide."
For one, he said, libraries don't usually sell their materials. Libraries also have rooms that community groups can use for meetings.
But the bookstore also has a cafe selling coffee, pastries, soups and sandwiches, stuff you can't get at a library. It also will likely have bestsellers available before the library does.