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The Friends of the Largo Library bookstore has grown from tables in a spare room 17 years ago into a popular shop.
By RITA FARLOW, Times Staff Writer
Published December 26, 2007
When the Friends of the Largo Library bookstore opened 17 years ago, the retail shop was in a spare meeting room with no shelving - only tables to display books.
At the end of each day, volunteers dutifully cleared the tables and stowed the books to clear the room for meetings.
"We were only open three days a week. Then it grew and it grew and finally it came to the point where (former library director Barbara Murphy) let us have that room," said Friends' charter member Kathryn Porter.
How times have changed.
In 2005, the group found a permanent location near the entrance of the city's state-of-the art facility.
"It's so beautiful. People walk in the bookstore and say, 'Is this a Barnes and Noble'?" said volunteer Maria Cunningham.
The bookstore was named in honor of Porter, 91, who opened the original store with fellow Friends member Emily Donaldson. "I was just dumfounded. I just couldn't believe it," said Porter, who won the Trustees and Friends Award from the Florida Library Association in 2001.
Porter also co-founded the Greater Largo Library Foundation in 1985 with the late Sadie Johnson. In 1973, she was named Largo's Citizen of the Year, and in 1975, she blazed a trail by becoming the first female president of the Largo Chamber of Commerce.
Porter, a retired educator, said she believes reading is essential.
"Even though we have all these new things today, computers and all, and they tell us we don't need books, I don't believe that. When we read we broaden our minds. It's just a way to grow," Porter said.
The Friends group was formed in 1975 to help support the library. The original group was made up of members of the Largo Woman's Club, who started the library in 1914.
Proceeds from book sales help pay for materials and support library programs. Since its inception, the group has raised more than $500,000 for the library.
About 35 dedicated volunteers clean, sort and price incoming donations, ring up sales and are always ready to offer advice on the next great read. It helps that several volunteers are retired librarians and educators.
"If one of us doesn't know the answer, the other one does," said volunteer coordinator Mary Ann Whitehurst.
Donated books come from all over the county and beyond, said store manager Jan Hendrick. Most arrive in great shape and go straight to the shelves, Hendrick said. Prices generally range from 50 cents to a few dollars, although rare or expensive books may cost a little more.
"We want them to be affordable enough so that they'll come back," Hendrick said.
In addition to the regular store hours, the group holds two or three book sales each year, and is in the 24th year of the Stanley Shalit Short Story Writing Competition for students in fourth grade, fifth grade, middle school and high school. Shalit, who died in 2004, served on the board of directors of the Greater Largo Library Foundation and was president of the Friends of the Largo Library board.
"Children were his most important things," said his wife, Iris Shalit, the Friends' board president.
For the first time this year, the group added a drawing competition for grades K-3, to include younger students who haven't yet mastered the skill of writing, Shalit said.
The store stocks children's books, romance novels, plenty of popular mysteries and an array of nonfiction.
The new, spacious bookstore is but the icing on the cake when it comes to the new library, Porter said.
"I love that library. ... I still think it's one of the best, if not the best, in the whole area."
1914 Largo Library opens by the Largo Woman's Club at the old Town Hall.
1977 New $1-million library facility opens at 351 East Bay Drive.
1989 Largo Library becomes a member of the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative.
1990 Bookstore by Friends of the Largo Library opens.
2005 New $21-million Largo Public Library opens at 120 Central Park Drive.
$185,000 Amount donated by Friends of the Largo Library toward construction, furnishing of new building.
$60,000 Amount donated to the library last year (2006) by Friends of the Largo Library.
$500,000 Amount donated by Friends of the Largo Library since its inception.
Next book sale, Jan. 19
The next Friends of the Library book sale will be from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Jan. 19 in the lobby of the library, 120 Central Park Drive. Gently used books, mostly hardbacks, are 50-cents or 3 for $1. For information, call the bookstore at 584-8806.
The Kathryn E. Porter Bookstore is open 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 1 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday.
[Last modified December 25, 2007, 21:16:42]