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Reading the rumors: What will fill Jacobson's?

Word that a corporate bookstore may move into part of the 50,000-square-foot space in Hyde Park Village has some nearby independent book sellers worried.

By RICK GERSHMAN
© St. Petersburg Times
published June 14, 2002


HYDE PARK -- The owners of Inkwood Books hope large corporate bookstores stay outside their neighborhood's Borders.

It is, they figure, the Noble thing to do.

Their concerns stem from reports that Old Hyde Park Village, less than a mile from the 11-year-old independent bookseller, is attempting to woo a Borders, Barnes & Noble or a third, unnamed contender.

The village needs to fill a 50,000 square-foot vacancy left when retailer Jacobson's left in the spring. Current tenants say managers are seeking a bookstore to fill part of the site, a notion that seems to delight some observers.

To prepare for a Tuesday visit by a potential new tenant, village general manager Pat Westerhouse e-mailed Hyde Park residents last month, encouraging them to populate the village at midday. She noted "it would be helpful if some of the neighbors were reading books, magazines, newspapers, etc."

Resident didn't bite. Tuesday came and went with barely a bookworm's nibble.

Without a signed lease, Westerhouse has been unable to publicly discuss the village's efforts.

Meanwhile, rumors of a new book store prompted Carla Jimenez, who owns Inkwood with Leslie Reiner, to start an e-mail campaign of her own.

Inkwood, on Armenia and Platt avenues, already endures competition from Barnes & Noble and Borders. Each chain already has a nearby store on Dale Mabry Highway. Borders is 1.3 miles from Inkwood; Barnes & Noble is just under 1.2 miles away.

It's a timely topic for Jimenez, currently promoting a July 1-7 "Independents Week," a celebration of independent South Tampa businesses. During that week, patrons of at least 17 businesses will be eligible for gift certificate drawings.

"What do we want our neighborhood to look like in five years?" Jimenez said. "Do you want locally-owned, independent businesses that put their money back into the community?"

Jimenez advised her clientele of the possible new book store competition and received numerous replies.

"I buy my books from you so it doesn't matter what store goes to Hyde Park Jacobson's former space," wrote Louise Ellis Burnett. "I doubt either of Borders or Barnes and Noble need a store so close to the ones on Dale Mabry."

"I invite my friends in Hyde Park to avoid the streets and stores on that day," wrote Sue Gridley. "And avoid reading or looking like you even CAN read. Stay at home. Even better, go to Inkwood and browse."

Rebecca Williams visited Inkwood on Tuesday with her daughter Ali, 9, who was picking up books she needs to read before entering fourth-grade this fall at Gorrie Elementary.

"I come here because it's convenient," said Williams, who works at Tommy Bahama in Old Hyde Park Village. "I usually go to Borders for CDs. On one hand, I love going to Borders, but I'd hate to think that something like that could make something like this go away."

Inkwood isn't the only independent bookseller concerned about a possible new superstore. Tomes and Treasures, an independent retailer on Howard Avenue S specializing in gay-themed books, has been in business 15 years.

Store owner Bill Kanouff said his shop lost about 15 percent of its business for six months when the Dale Mabry superstores opened in the early 1990s.

"Everyone wants to check out the new thing," he said. "And most large chains have a gay section, but they carry only about 5 percent of the gay publishers. You can order any books from there, but here the books are on the shelf.

Kanouff said he would expect at least the same dip if another store opened in the village.

That could be a rough hit for Tomes and Treasures. It has been running in the red after an expansion and addition of a coffeehouse, plus the economic troubles that followed the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"Another loss would impact us greatly, and I also worry for the other independents," Kanouff said. "It's the mainstreaming of America."

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