After more than a quarter-century of providing a warm gathering place, personal service and countless books to Tampa readers, Inkwood Books will close its doors on March 31.
Stefani Beddingfield, who has owned the bookstore since 2013, said Thursday, “Any minute now, Tom Hanks is going to sweep in” as he did in the movie You’ve Got Mail, “and I’m out of here.”
Beddingfield, 52, moved the store to Tampa Heights in late 2017, hoping the area’s multiplying restaurants and other businesses would help give the bookstore momentum. Author events drew crowds, she says, but “daily foot traffic” didn’t develop.
When her landlord recently told her another tenant was interested in the property, she says, “I thought, you know, it might just be time. I hope someone else does it. I think the location could be great, but it’s not there yet, and I just ran out of the finances to hang on.”
It’s a cycle she’s seen before, she says. “Look what happened on Central, with all the little shops, and in Ybor, which used to be awesome. They want all the small businesses.
“The developers tell you, I love the idea of you. I thought, that sounds like my last relationship.”
Like independent booksellers nationwide, Beddingfield found herself competing with Amazon. She would bring in touring authors for talks and book signings, and patrons would show up with copies of the book they had purchased online, apparently unaware that the point of bookstore events was to sell books.
“If you wonder what’s happening to bookstores,” she says, “ask yourself what the last 12 books you bought were, and where did you buy them.”
Inkwood Books’ original location was a yellow 1923 bungalow on S Armenia Avenue, where co-owners Carla Jimenez and Leslie Reiner opened the bookstore in 1991. It became a South Tampa landmark, popular for its many author events and its quirky charm.
Jimenez and Reiner sold the business in 2013 to Beddingfield, a longtime customer who had been a stay-at-home mom to her two daughters for several years.
Beddingfield brought her sense of humor to the job. In 2016, comic Amy Schumer took a crack at Tampa in her memoir, Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo, writing. “I know for a fact that no one who lives there has ever read a book. JKJKJKJK, but kind of not K.”
Beddingfield, who read the memoir just before Schumer was set to perform in Tampa, clapped back on Inkwood’s sign: “Dear Ms. Schumer give us another chance? Love, the three people who read.”
Jimenez and Reiner retained ownership of the property, which they put on the market in 2017. In November of that year, Beddingfield moved the bookstore to a larger, newly renovated space at 1809 N Tampa St., steps from the Hall on Franklin and other Tampa Heights development.
Since the store opened in that location, it has hosted appearances by such major writers as Pulitzer Prize winner Gilbert King, National Book Award finalist Lauren Groff and two-time Edgar winner Lori Roy, as well as many local authors. The store also hosted book clubs for adults and young readers.
Beddingfield says she isn’t sure what she’ll do next: “Maybe nothing for a while.”
In the meantime, she’ll be clearing out the store’s shelves — and selling the shelves. Inkwood Books will remain open through March; books and most other pieces of merchandise are now 30 percent off.
Contact Colette Bancroft at [email protected] or (727) 893-8435. Follow @colettemb.