In The News
Old Tampa Book Company overflows with book titles from history to fish hooks
The Examiner – January 25, 2011
David Brown is in the enviable position of working at what he loves, as he has been a collector of books, he says, all of his life.
And his love of, and knowledge of books and the vast knowledge they contain is evident here.
The store is chock full of used, out-of-print, and rare books on a wide variety of topics.
And there are limited editions, and signed books, including one signed by Groucho Marx!
You’ve got books on military history; the civil war; golf; music and theater, natural history, biographies, and children’s fiction, and books about ships and sailing and railroads fairly tumble from the jammed shelves lining three comfortable rooms where you can browse the collection, or relax in quiet and thumb through your favorite book.
There are wondrous books locked away in a glass cabinet. Locked in because they are old and fragile and unique.
Like the American Gazeeteer, from 1798. Which contains a map drawn in 1797, when there was no Tampa and the place we now live was known as “Spiritu Santo.”
There’s a cookbook that would be the envy of Martha Stewart. “The Book of Household Management,” written in 1869, which boasts that it contains instructions on how to cook anything! From scratch no doubt.
A first edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle” perches just to the right of a Hebrew Bible from the 1600′s.
And an English Dictionary, from 1675, published in London, and once owned by the founder of the Boy Scouts of America, is tucked away on a lower shelf near a how to guide on “Hunting the African Buffalo.”
You could lose yourself in these books in an afternoon here. Lose yourself in history, and action and philosophy and humor and the life stories of great men and women.
Brown ships many of his books all over the world to dedicated collectors, through Amazon.com, and Alibris and the store website: www.oldtampabookcompany.com
The Old Tampa Book Company iis located at 507 N. Tampa Street. Store hours are Weekdays 10AM to 5PM, and Saturday 11AM to 5PM
e-mail David or Ellen at email@example.com or call 813-209-2151
Bookstore has niche in downtown Tampa
The Tampa Tribune – October 1, 2010
The closing of a tailor shop two decades ago opened the door to a retired couple who moved to Tampa with 3,000 books and a passion to become part of their new community.
Old Tampa Book Co. has survived downtown’s economic difficulties, endured noisy, dusty roadwork projects and adapted to the computer era — somewhat.
The small shop maintains a mom-and-pop atmosphere where locals and visitors seek out gently used bargain-priced nonfiction on virtually any topic, novels by select authors and relatively inexpensive collectible volumes.
South Tampa residents Ellen and David Brown own and operate the cozy, well-stocked store which, 16 years after its humble beginning, is a downtown fixture.
“We may have a wooden cash drawer, but people find us on the internet,” says Ellen Brown. The couple embraced the Internet as a source for sales only after the downtown they admired and selected for their venture became a changed market.
They left their longtime home in Rochester, N.Y., in 1992, coming to Tampa not for the sun and sea, but for its cultural arts, fine dining and other big-city qualities explored during a weeklong vacation taken before opting to move.
“David and I both come from small-town America,” he from Castle Creek, she from Hurleyville, a pair of New York hamlets about two hours apart. They met while attending Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and married a half-century ago.
David Brown had worked 28 years for Xerox, and his wife was owner-operator of a Rochester art gallery for almost that long.
They settled in Tampa, initially at Harbour Island. One thing was certain, says Ellen Brown: “We didn’t want to retire.”
It’s hardly surprising they ended up as book dealers. “We came in with 3,000 books, because David was a collector,” says Ellen Brown, who loves to read. Her husband owned 9,000 volumes, but to lighten the load before moving south, two-thirds of them were sold, or given to relatives.
Seeking an appropriate place to display and sell used books, the couple immediately ruled out strip malls as overly restrictive with tenants.
“This felt right,” Ellen Brown says of the 1,400-square-foot space they discovered at 507 N. Tampa St.
The building had been bought by a corporate conglomerate, apparently prompting tailor Richard Bennett to hang up his tape measure. “The guy just turned out the lights and locked the doors,” leaving behind everything from sewing machines to bolts of cloth, David Brown says.
The shop long had been vacant when the Browns asked about leasing it. The owners wanted a few months to clean it out, but the Browns made an acceptable counter offer: We’ll do it in exchange for two months of free rent.
Coat racks were turned into bookshelves. Short-legged chairs that tailors likely used when hemming pant cuffs were pressed into service for bookstore patrons perusing books on bottom shelves. A low wooden table and a large pair of scissors abandoned by the tailor never left the shop, and remain in use there today.
Now, Old Tampa Book Co. has “more than 40,000 good-quality” volumes on virtually every subject, from automobiles, railroads, airplanes and flying to ships and sailing. Other sections hold books on guns and swords, plus every sport, including bull fighting.
Fiction includes the masters such as Ernest Hemingway and John Dos Passos, plus a large collection of the works of popular Florida authors. You won’t find Harlequin paperbacks, but the store does carry best sellers by John Grisham, Tom Clancy and other contemporary novelists.
Selections range from a handful of leather-bound collectibles, many for less than $50, to scores of bargain books relegated to the dollar table outside the shop’s front door.
As longtime tenants, the Browns have noted downtown’s changes.
“We were busy when we originally opened up. We thought downtown was just about to come back,” Ellen Brown says.
“Offices were full, large corporations were cranking away,” David Brown says of the days when Tampa Electric Co. and defunct GTE operated large downtown customer service centers. Then, he says, “The major corporations moved out; attorneys moved to West Shore.”
That’s when the Browns turned to the Internet. OldTampaBookCompany.com expanded the market for the small store, enabling the Browns to acquire interesting books from distant lands, sell their own offerings worldwide and become known to potential customers who might some day visit Tampa and the store.
“We are shipping books all over the world,” from Australia to Japan, and many to England, Ellen Brown says of the portion of the business handled by their store manager and first and only employee, Penny Livingston, a 12-year veteran.
But it’s evident the Browns prefer face-to-face sales, greeting customers as they come in to scour the shelves or inquire about a particular out-of-print title.
David Brown regularly visits estate sales and other sources of good books. “I never go to garage sales because they never have enough books. But I love it when people call me and say they’ve got a house full of books and have to get rid of them,” he said.
Adds his wife: “We never go anywhere where we don’t stop at a used book store.”
“This one we just found; it was printed in 1797,” Ellen said, showing off “The American Gazetteer,” its 600-plus pages in surprisingly good condition, including the half-dozen foldout maps. “It is a wonderful book, so those are exciting finds.”
David discovered the gazetteer at a used book store at a huge flea market in Stuart. He paid $65 for the leather-bound first edition, published in Boston when the nation was 21 years old.
While such finds are infrequent for even the most diligent, they make fine memories.
“Every book collector you ever talk to will have that story,” he says.
Old Tampa Book Company Turns Sweet Sixteen
83 Degrees Media – September 14, 2010
Break out the kisses, a beloved downtown Tampa business is turning sweet 16.
The Old Tampa Book Company at 507 N. Tampa Street celebrates 16 years of business the first weekend of October. To what do owners David and Ellen Brown owe their success?
“Commitment,” says Ellen Brown. “We belong to the Tampa Independent Business Alliance and all of us are committed to the unique aspect of a city that’s different than the mall. What makes being downtown unique is the absence of chain stores. The unique nature of restaurants and small shops that are owned by individuals who have a commitment to our area. We traveled a lot to cities like Sonoma, CA and Portland, ME, and these places have a commitment to buying locally. And there’s a quality to that. David and I both come from small towns and we feel like we’re in a small town in downtown Tampa. We feel like we can go to other small businesses for help and it’s a real community. It’s nice. ”
“The bookstore is a result of David’s very active curiosity,” says Ellen. “He’s got a history of appraising books and knows what collectors want. He chooses books that are of interest to him. He looks for the unusual. The biggest issue for him is the condition and the quality. We look for hard cover books in good condition.”
The celebration includes a half off sale and of course, chocolate kisses.