For sale: Tampa's fiercely independent bookstore. Will Inkwood's legacy live on?

Published Aug. 17, 2012

Inkwood, the fiercely independent bookstore in a cozy old Hyde Park bungalow — host to book signings from Ralph Nader to Marco Rubio and site of some memorable Harry Potter pajama parties — is for sale.


Say it isn't so.

Carla Jimenez has run this place with business partner and friend Leslie Reiner for 20 years — so long they are like sisters finishing each other's sentences. It's true, she says. But there's more to the story, a deeper read, and hope, she says, that the spirit of Inkwood will persevere.

How's that for a cliffhanger?

This news matters because independents like Inkwood are precious few in these parts, this particular one as dear to Tampa and as much a part of its character as Haslam's is to St. Pete. It is a 1920s home on a quirky corner where two one-way streets meet, rumored to have once been home to a librarian, today neatly crammed with books and posters about books and books and more books. It is a place to fall into and get lost.

Jimenez was, of all improbable things, a lawyer at USF when she saw something in the paper about Reiner looking for a partner to open a bookstore. Reiner's also-improbable background: Nursing. They thumbed a dictionary for a name, something about ink, inkwell, inky, and found Inkwood, a tree that grows in Florida.

They handpicked each book and marked their favorites for customers and did things their way, not some ordered-from-on-high corporate way. During the last presidential election, if you bought a book that clearly leaned politically one way, you got half-off a book that leaned the other — the theory being that knowledge is good.

The little bookstore that could became a respected player, hosting legions of authors, Connie May Fowler, Dave Barry, Carl Hiaasen, Emeril Lagasse, David Sedaris, both in the store and in bigger spaces, like a theater or an Irish pub. Inkwood co-existed with big box chains, Amazon and e-books, its owners strong advocates of buying local. In the classic David and Goliath battle, it is interesting to note that the nearby Borders is gone, but Inkwood pushes on.

From behind the counter they have watched kids grow from Curious George to summer reading lists to college requirements. Inkwood became the neighborhood place for gift books and must-have of-the-moment books, beach reads and book club picks. And when Jimenez and Reiner talk about their work, you can tell one of the best parts, even still, is finding someone something good to read.

This, they insist, is not an obituary. Jimenez started contemplating retirement two years ago, with plans to fill her days with good causes like Big Brothers Big Sisters, Planned Parenthood, maybe the guardian ad litem program. Reiner doesn't want to be the lone owner — "I could do it," she says, "but it wouldn't be as much fun." So Inkwood is for sale, with the possibility Reiner could stay on.

It's something of a sad process, seeing people every week she soon won't anymore. But Jimenez says, "There's no bad news here."

And so here is the good: They say they have interest from suitors "who want to keep this going." No details, this being business and all.

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But given all Inkwood has been to Tampa, wouldn't that be your classic, bittersweet, happy ending?