Amy Schmaedeke owns Book Bank in Largo and has since 1998.
LARGO – In the age of electronic readers, gargantuan chain stores and online retail sites, independent used bookstores are becoming endangered species. Yet Book Bank is one such store that’s still managing to keep its head above water.
The store, at 13002 Seminole Blvd. in Largo, first opened in Largo Mall in 1992 but moved across the street to the Piccadilly Square plaza two and a half years ago. Though about half the size of its original location, it still feels spacious as light floods in through the glass door and windows and fills the 2,000-square-foot shop with Florida sunshine.
Amy Schmaedeke, the owner since 1998, believes her store provides a warm, inviting ambience for her customers.
“It’s a very pleasant atmosphere. There’s no stress or hassle. People come in because they want to relax and browse,” she said.
She admitted that she has noticed a decline in business.
“We are the last independent bookstore in this area,” she said.
Schmaedeke speculated that the steady rise of e-readers is a big reason why so many used bookstores are disappearing. She also counted the onslaught of Internet retailers over the past several years as another reason why the relatively few small book stores still around are having a tough time staying afloat.
Furthermore, corporate chain stores pose another obstacle for mom-and-pop operations like Book Bank. Often people gravitate to these super stores to not just pick up the latest Dan Brown offering, but to shop for toys, games, music, electronics and DVDs.
So aside from used books, what is it that small stores can offer the consumer that perhaps the big stores like Barnes & Noble and Books-A-Million can’t?
“Personal customer service,” Schmaedeke replied without hesitation. “We have more time for the customer.”
Schmaedeke, with her soft, friendly voice and smiling brown eyes, is a people person who loves her job. Originally from Malaysia, she moved to Europe and lived in Germany for 20 years, but never got used to the cold weather. Seeking a balmier climate, she finally moved to sunny Florida in 1997.
“I love the beach! That’s why I came to Florida,” she said. “Malaysia and Florida are not that different. I grew up by the ocean. I love swimming.”
But as much as she loves the outdoors, she believes that spending so much time surrounded by books has been quite rewarding for her.
“It’s like getting a free college education,” she said, and laughed. “I’m now probably a Ph.D. I’ve learned so much from reading, whether it’s business, history, cooking, whatever.”
She also has an affinity for learning languages.
“I speak fluent German, a little French and a little Spanish,” she said.
As for all the genres of books she stocks, Schmaedeke affirmed that romance sells the best, but suspense/mystery novels are not far behind. Though most of Book Bank’s roughly 30,000 titles are used, it does carry a sizeable portion of new fiction, nonfiction and children’s books that arrive on the release date.
The store issues credit for trade-ins and will offer anywhere from 5 cents to two dollars of credit per book. The staff is also happy to do special orders for new and used books.
Occasionally the store holds events such as book signings, which have included some well-known authors autographing books and spending actual face time with booklovers.
“Tim Dorsey comes once every year,” Schmaedeke said cheerfully, and mentioned that his next appearance will be in February 2014.
In an increasingly digital world where readers can summon the Scottish moors of Macbeth, the Mississippi River of Huck Finn and the magical world of Harry Potter just by tapping smartphone screens, Schmaedeke is glad that some folks still seek the human touch.
“I love the fact that we have a lot of repeat customers, very loyal customers that have been coming to see us ever since the store opened over 20 years ago,” she said, smiling. “Seeing familiar faces is always nice.”