What follows is a repost of something I put on a Facebook page for a group of Tallahasseeans.
Here’s some truly heartbreaking news for Our Fair City and my favorite TLH business, a 30-yr institution: the awesome/venerable Paperback Rack is closing for good this week. There’s been several attempts to stay open the last few years, but this is the finish line. There’s currently a Going Out of Business Sale to help clear stock, so please take some time to do so.
I first wandered into the store in 1992. It was at its original location in a mini-strip-mall on Pensacola, across the street from Publix — or where the Publix used to be. This was the same mini-strip-mall that housed the legendary Vinyl Fever (in its second location at the time). I loved the super-cheap prices, the selection, the personal touch from the well-informed and helpful staff; it was a culture of enthusiasm for the written word. And when I moved into the apartment complex that still dwells behind that building, I would walk the dirt path on the side of the building and spend the day at the shops there: Vinyl Fever, TCBY, Paperback Rack, and a little video rental place. For a guy with almost no money, it was an inexpensive indulgence. But my favorite was, is, and ever shall be the Paperback Rack.
In 1994, I met Lisa, who was an employee there. She was naturally very friendly, and, due to my frequent visits, she quickly recognized me as a regular, and before long we were friends. Over the years — decades! — I would still pop in every once in a while, even after she bought the shop from the original owner and moved it to its current location at North Monroe and Third Avenue. Often, if I had the time, I would spend most of the visit catching up. Many of my “staycations” and days off over the last nine years have seen me spending hours upon hours hanging out with Lisa (as well as purchasing stacks of books, naturally). It got so that when a customer came in to the shop and asked for something, I’d offer to assist them (I know where every section is). And of course, huge chunks of my book collection are acquisitions from the Paperback Rack, each bearing the stamped pricing on the first page of the book. And given the number of trade-ins I had done over the years (for store credit and, at one point, for cash), there’s still bits and pieces of my book collection still for sale there. The selection has been as much a draw for me as anything else. Long out-of-print history and language books, obscure biographies, books on philosophy and religion, quickie cheap copies of novels, and of course MANY MANY copies of the Lord of the Rings… all this and more is why I love coming back. I’d even say 90% of the time I’ve bought something there, I had no intention of making any purchase when I walked in. I’ve always found it hard to resist because it’s *so full of good stuff*. And I guess I thought it always would be.
The Paperback Rack has been a part of my life longer than my children, my career, and even my wife. It breaks my heart to have to face this reality. This place, more than any other part of the town have called home for twenty-two years, has been my home base and my church; a place that, no matter how lousy my life may have been at that moment (seeing me through a rough young adulthood, replete with breakups, homelessness, deep clinical depression, divorce, child custody issues, food stamps, day labor… you name it), has been somewhere I can go to reset and refresh, even if for a day. And I know I’m not the only one.
Since the rise of Amazon (a mixed blessing in so many ways; let’s be honest) and the big box booksellers, the Rack has been fighting harder and harder to stay alive. Over the last decade, it’s not so much been living as surviving. And it isn’t due to ineptitude, a lack of customer service or expertise, corruption, or any of the internal things that can bend and break a small business; it’s the market. Volume booksellers can afford to undercut the competition. And they do. The result is we find ourselves seeing great businesses shut their doors. And now it’s — dammit — the Paperback Rack’s turn.
As I’ve mentioned, the Rack has faced this situation more than a few times, but has been saved thanks to some enterprising and very kind citizens and Rackophiles who have stepped in at the last second more than once. Donations, big purchases, what have you: nearly everything has been done to preserve this place and the culture that has always surrounded it, short of re-working the entire industry at the expense of small booksellers. Lisa’s outlasted most of the local competition, including a handful of national bookstore chains. There are few (if any) non-college bookstores that exist anymore in Tallahassee that were around when the Paperback Rack opened its doors in 1984. It has managed to stand the test of time because — in my opinion — it has been the best.
If you love this town, if you adore books, or if you simply want the last truly great small businesses in this crazy, transient, college town/capital city, get down there and let Lisa know. Buy some books. Buy a bunch. (Or donate $10,000!) And never forget that, for at least one person in this town, there was a bookstore that helped keep them alive, kicking, and happy.