The progression of technology and the replacement of paper books with digital copies has put bookstores in a dilemma of possible extinction. However, there are plenty of people who still enjoy the intimacy between a reader and the delicate flip of an actual page. That being said, not all bookstores are borrowing time to keep their doors open because the enjoyment of purchasing a tangible edition of a work is still cherished by many. Nestled in the Grand Central District of Downtown St. Pete, you will discover Haslam’s Book Store (www.haslams.com) – located at 2025 Central Ave – Florida’s largest and oldest bookstore.
What makes Haslam’s worth the visit? The extent of the store’s collection, the history, and the whimsical feel of stepping back in time that you experience as soon as you walk through the doors makes this place a fantasy land. With over 300,000 new and used books to browse in 30,000 square feet, you could spend the entire afternoon exploring the tales that are found around each corner.
The story began over eighty years ago during the Great Depression when John and Mary Haslam had the desire to offer avid readers (much like themselves) the opportunity to enjoy used magazines and books. The two spent every penny they had to purchase a massive collection of leather bound books that belonged to a real estate developer who was leaving for England. Mary, being the brains of the operation, decided to protect the books by putting covers on them and rent them out, because if they sold the books, they’d soon run out and would not have a consistent income. (In the 1930s the going rate was two cents per day!)
Originally located on 9th Street in Saint Petersburg, Florida (directly across from the now-historic and elegant event venue NOVA 535), Haslam’s opened in 1933. (The business has moved a few times to accommodate the increased inventory and customers). Keeping the family tradition of book loving alive, when you visit today, you will most likely run into Raymond Hinst III – who is fourth generation bookseller! Growing up in the store with his parents, Ray and Suzanne Haslam-Hinst, he is knowledgeable beyond merely the books they have in stock. Ray even hosts field trip tours for elementary students, which explain the history of books and more.
I had the pleasure of meeting Raymond and asking him a few questions about his family’s business. Always being a book-worm, Hinst not only fancies selling books, but also gets a kick out of matching people up to writings that they will love or change their life to help see the world in a new way.
A little something that I had to ask Raymond about was the rumor of Haslam’s being haunted. With a chuckle, he shared some interesting happenings that occur within in the walls of the old store.
Jack Kerouac, American novelist and poet, found himself living in St. Pete (he actually lived on 51st Street!). Before passing away in 1969, he frequently paid visit to Haslam’s Book Store, where he had a mission of rearranging the books on the shelves, because alphabetically his were on the bottom of the shelf, and he would attempt to be sneaky and place them at eye level in order to sell more copies.
“To this day, books on this wall,” Hinst explained while pointing to the south wall, “will just fall while we are putting things away in the dark.” Sounds a little spooky, but Raymond assured me that the ghost of Kerouac is no real threat. Actually, a paranormal investigation team paid visit to Haslam’s and video-graphed some of the first ever orbs recorded!
A family business rich in history, a friendly ghost, field trips, and even book-signings, Haslam’s Book Store in Downtown St. Pete is a little sanctuary for readers of all genres, writers, and history buffs. Stop in to explore the collection on a rainy afternoon, or look for something specific to grab on a sunny day. Whatever your choice may be, take a picture of it and post onto Downtown Now on DowntownStPete.com because we would love to hear from you!