1. News

A beloved bookstore loses its owner, reason for being

Gary Nippes, O.J. Brisky’s friend and longtime employee, standing in front of O. Brisky Books in Micanopy, will bring books from the Brisky collection to this weekend’s Antiquarian Book Fair at the Coliseum.
Published Mar. 13, 2014

MICANOPY — O.J. Brisky hated his first name, but he loved books, old dusty books, books with a little mildew or history hidden among the pages. For decades, he bought them by the thousands and sold them at his beloved North Florida store, O. Brisky Books.

Brisky, who helped start the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, which celebrates its 33rd year this weekend in St. Petersburg, would perch behind the counter next to his rotary-dial phone and hold court about one antique book or another. If a customer was unable to locate a desired book, Brisky could almost always put his hand on it, which seemed impossible given that neatness and a dependable filing system was a low priority.

After he sold a book, writing out a receipt because he hated computers, he'd retreat to the bench in front of his store with a book, perhaps The Tragedies of Sophocles or As I Lay Dying by Faulkner, ignite a Lucky Strike and start reading.

Now the bench is abandoned. Brisky died from lung cancer complications on Jan. 20. His friend and longtime employee, Gary Nippes, is in the process of selling Brisky's inventory of nearly 100,000 books.

"Everybody in the business knew him,'' said Mike Slicker, who operates St. Petersburg's Lighthouse Books and has organized this weekend's book fair at the Coliseum. "If you loved books, you couldn't drive on the interstate past Micanopy and not feel his store pulling on you like a magnet. You just had to go.''

Brisky, 71 when he died, helped Slicker start the book fair, where used book dealers from all over America gather once a year to sell their wares. Years ago, when other used-book sellers were arguing about a logo for their group, Brisky grew impatient, picked up a Magic Marker, and drew one. The logo is still used today.

Born in Hungary and raised in Louisiana, Oscar Brisky began collecting books as a child. As a young man he traded the hated Oscar for O.J., majored in American literature at LSU, and then opened a used book store in New Orleans. Later, he moved to New Port Richey, joined the staff of the defunct Clearwater Sun newspaper, and started an antique book store in Tarpon Springs. In 1985, he moved operations to Micanopy, the campsite in 1774 for the botanist William Bartram. Bartram's famous book, Travels, came out in 1791. Brisky, on occasion, sold first editions of it for $1,500 or more.

"What gave him the most pleasure was hunting for books,'' said Nippes. Driving a dilapidated van from city to city, Brisky scoured garage sales, went to auctions and haunted estate closeouts. He'd trade, buy and beg for them.

In his 28 years in Micanopy, he filled the store, a nearby warehouse and every room of his house with books. "I need the garage for books'' he liked to tell neighbors who wondered why he parked in the driveway.

He loved old children's books, histories, travel tomes and anything Florida. He always had a few first-edition Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings novels lying around. He liked books about Indians, Africa, Russian histories, old plays, fishing adventures. He specialized in obscurities long out of print. A customer who had been searching for, say, Geology of Ethiopia, went home happy. Someone hunting for an old novel by Danielle Steel might leave in a huff. Brisky didn't do modern.

"You could ask him about an old book he couldn't possibly know about and he would know about it,'' said an old customer, Josh Braley. Brisky kept them on sagging shelves and on dusty piles on wooden floors that seemed on the verge of collapse. Neighborhood cats strolled through the door with impunity. Mosquitoes came by air unimpeded. The door was open. Brisky's lacked an air conditioner and a heater. Customers sweated or shivered. Most sneezed. Brisky thought old books should be dusty.

Customers paid in cash or by check. He never learned how to use a credit card machine. He hated computers. Receipts were filled out by pencil. The phone behind the counter was 1970s vintage. The phone booth in the back of the store was even older and also worked.

Nippes, his old employee, will bring a few Brisky prizes to the book fair on Friday, including Garcilaso de la Vega's History of the Conquest of Florida from 1680, priced at $1,800, and John T. Sprague's 1848 account of Indian battles, The Origin, Progress and Conclusion of the Florida War, for $800.

A lifelong smoker, Brisky started losing weight last summer. In December, he was diagnosed as terminal. He kept coming to his store. Somebody from the business across the street, Coffee 'n Cream, brought him soup every day.

Brisky was divorced. His son lives in Germany. Nippes plans to retire.

Old book stores die, too.

Jeff Klinkenberg can be reached at


  1. Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos listens to a speaker share an opinion about a city matter during a city council meeting at Clearwater City Hall in Clearwater, Fla. on Thursday, April 20, 2017.  On Thursday, the Clearwater City Council rejected the mayor's resolution urging lawmakers to ban assault weapons.  [Times files] TIMES FILES  |  Tampa Bay Times
    However, the city did pass a resolution calling for more modest gun control measures.
  2. An American Airlines Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft approaches Miami International Airport for landing in March. Bloomberg
    The 60-year-old veteran airline employee told investigators he was upset that union contract negotiations had stalled.
  3. Maurice A. Ferré at his Miami home earlier this year. JOSE A. IGLESIAS  |  Miami Herald
    He served as mayor for 12 years and set the stage for Miami to become an international city.
  4. Lilly Beth Rodriguez, left, Laura Robertson and Linda Lamont work on a Habitat for Humanity house in north Pasco. [Times (2013)]
    The increase is expected to happen in the first half of next year. CEO hopes other nonprofits follow suit.
  5. Terry Spencer carries his daughter, Trinity, through high water on 59th Street near Stewart Road in Galveston, Texas, Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2019, as heavy rain from Tropical Depression Imelda caused street flooding on the island. JENNIFER REYNOLDS  |  AP
    Although the amount of predicted rainfall is massive — forecasters say some places could see 40 inches or more this week.
  6. This April 2001 photo, which appeared in a newsletter from the West Point Grey Academy, shows a costumed Justin Trudeau, his face and hands darkened by makeup, attending an "Arabian Nights" gala. The academy is a private school in Vancouver, B.C., where Trudeau worked as a teacher before entering politics. (West Point Grey Academy/The Canadian Press via AP)
    A few Southern politicians responded to similar scandals recently with denials, apologies, and promises. Most of them have managed to stay in office.
  7. The number of single-family homes sold in the Tampa Bay area during August rose 2.8 percent when compared with the same month last year, according to a monthly report from Florida Realtors. (Times file photo)
    The midpoint price in the bay area rose to $250,000, which is still lower than the state and national median prices.
  8. This April 14, 2019 file photo shows a western meadowlark in the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge in Commerce City, Colo. According to a study released on Thursday, Sept. 19, 2019, North America’s skies are lonelier and quieter as nearly 3 billion fewer wild birds soar in the air than in 1970. Some of the most common and recognizable birds are taking the biggest hits, even though they are not near disappearing yet. The population of eastern meadowlarks has shriveled by more than three-quarters with the western meadowlark nearly as hard hit. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski) DAVID ZALUBOWSKI  |  AP
    “People need to pay attention to the birds around them because they are slowly disappearing,” said the study’s lead author.
  9. Michael Robert-Jose Harbaugh has pleaded guilty in the 2017 slaying of Safety Harbor neighbor David Sommer, a former reporter. Harbaugh also pleaded guilty to a charge he tried to have a witness in the case killed. [Pinellas County Sheriff's Office]
    Former journalist David Sommer was killed in 2017. Michael Harbaugh, 42, agreed to serve 30 years in prison for his crimes.
  10. Rep. Susan Valdes, D-Tampa, during a Feb. 7, 2019, meeting of the House PreK-12 Appropriations subcommittee. [The Florida Channel]
    ‘One test should not determine the rest of your life,’ Rep. Susan Valdes says.