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Postcards from Florida

'Florida's Greatest Rainy-Day Attraction!' -- St. Pete's Haslam's Book Store, an old-school heaven for readers

Jim Abbott on Travel

Postcards from Florida

October 18, 2009

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There are two ways to buy books:

For efficiency, there's always the click of a mouse on Amazon: convenient as an ATM transaction and almost as charming.

For the more romantic among us, however, nothing compares with perusing the stacks at a fine independent bookstore.

In Florida (or anywhere really), that experience doesn't come any finer than at Haslam's Book Store, a St. Petersburg institution for more than 75 years.

In an era when brick-and-mortar booksellers are fighting for survival, Haslam's has turned its family-owned, 30,000-square-foot store into a legitimate tourist stop.

"Florida's Greatest Rainy-Day Attraction!"

That's the boast on promotional fliers that compete for attention with Busch Gardens and other attractions in racks around town. Don't wait for a rainy day, though.

Haslam's, housed in a functional space that looks only slightly dressier than a warehouse, offers roughly 300,000 reasons for readers to love it.

The inventory is a mixture of new and used books, cheapo paperbacks and valuable collectibles. Precise inventory figures aren't kept, says co-owner Ray Hinst, 64.

Hinst is married to Suzanne Haslam, the third generation of the family to run the store. The fourth is represented by the couple's son, Ray, who also works there.

"What we try to do," the elder Hinst says, "is have something for everybody."

That ranges from first-edition Kerouac novels or a signed, limited-edition copy of Slaughterhouse Five to the latest breezy summer reading. Among the floor-to-ceiling stacks in the side rooms are shelves laden with books on history, yoga and theology.

Unlike shopping on the Web, there are surprises around each corner -- and a knowledgeable staff that loves the place, too.

"It's a destination store," Hinst says. "Folks that are interested in books find their way here. Thankfully, enough people are still interested to keep the lights on."

Haslam's, at 2025 Central Ave., is open 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Yes, there's a Web site -- haslams.com -- but you can't buy books on it.

That's still done the old-fashioned way.


Jim Abbott can be reached at jabbott@orlando sentinel.com or 407-420-6213.