Tim Dorsey held a signing for his novel Atomic Lobster at Book Bank USA in the Largo Mall in January. "The staff worked hard to make it happen," Dorsey said. "The good thing about independent bookstores is they know their customers. They're able to spread the word, and it turns into a good event."
Creating memorable events is not a problem, said Amy Schmaedeke, who has owned the store since 1998.
But making a profit is a different story. In two years, sales at Largo's only freestanding bookstore have dropped 20 percent.
With readers gravitating to chain stores and the Internet, Schmaedeke, 58, says she needs more support from area readers to stay afloat.
"I want to tell the community to buy locally,'' she said. "It is sad that people have lost the idea of going into a neighborhood bookstore.''
With 4,000 square feet, the store — three doors down from the movie theater — holds 80,000 titles and includes a new and used book section.
Book Bank's average customer is over 50. "And the most loyal customers are found in the used-book department,'' Schmaedeke said.
The staff of five part-timers and one full-time manager goes through a "rigorous six-month training, learning the different genres and what sells and what does not,'' Schmaedeke said.
"We are very careful what we put on our shelves. As a member of the American Booksellers Association, we are expected to have integrity. Yet people want things instantly so they go miles away to chains.''
Dorsey is releasing his 11th novel, Nuclear Jellyfish, in January. He sees firsthand how the number of independent bookstores is shrinking as he schedules his next book tour.
"When you say that Largo has just one independent bookstore, I say, 'You're lucky,' " Dorsey said. "People have to remember that so many cities don't even have one.''
One city resident who shops at Book Bank is Mayor Pat Gerard.
"I've bought paperbacks there," she said. "I see where Book Bank has a niche, particularly with its used books."
When asked about the bookstore's struggles, Gerard pointed to the success of the Largo Library.
"Maybe people are borrowing, not buying right now," she said. "Our library is one of the busiest in the county.''
Gerard said she'd like to see a large bookstore at the Largo Town Center, slated to be built in 2010 at the site of the former Crossroads Mall on U.S. 19.
"Personally, I'd like to see a big store like a Borders or a Books a Million in Largo Town Center. Certainly with the bigger store there's advantages," Gerard said. "It would be great to see bookstores at both ends of Largo."
Piper Castillo can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4163.