My thoughts on a beloved Tampa bookstore closing

Inkwood Books will close its doors the end of March. Here’s why that sucks.

Yesterday, Inkwood Books rocked the Tampa word scene when it announced it would close at the end of March. The store, which recently moved to Tampa Heights, has been a mecca for readers and writers alike. 

Inkwood’s Facebook post has a slew of comments, and the reason isn’t apparent (and, to be honest, it’s really none of anyone’s business why owner Stefani Beddingfield made this decision). 

Tampa Bay’s community of readers will feel the hole left by Inkwood’s closing, but here’s another take on why this is a real tragedy.

I met Stefani right before my first book came out in 2016. She and I were both at a conference in Savannah called SIBA — the Southern Independent Booksellers Association. She was there as an indie bookstore owner; I was there as an author. Because my book was pretty much about Florida, I sought out the Florida booksellers.

For four days, I heard other authors talk about something called “hand-selling” and about how much they wouldn’t enjoy the success they did as writers without indie booksellers. I didn’t know how much of that to believe, because, well, I’d never published a book before and this was, after all, a conference geared at indies.

I liked Stefani right away, which is not something I say about lots of people. We bonded when a well-known (and who shall remain nameless) author gave a talk one night, in which she Yankee-splained racism to perhaps some of the most woke white people in the South. It was awkward; I was horrified. Stefani empathized. We bonded over a glass of wine in a resplendent Knights of Columbus Hall, then went back to the hotel with our bags of books. For me, those bags of books I received at SIBA were perks — free books, y’all! — but for Stefani and other indie booksellers, they were homework. They’d cull through those books, and the ones they loved, they’d order for their store. They’d have author events. They’d tell their customers about them (that’s what hand-selling means, I quickly realized).

After the conference, Stefani reached out: Would I come do a signing? And so did lots of other bookstores. I sold more than 70 books in two hours at Copperfish Books in Punta Gorda; I sold out (and had to stop at the UPF distribution site to bring more to satisfy orders) at Tallahassee’s Midtown Reader. Next month I’ll do a signing at Judy Blume’s bookstore in Key West.

What’s significant about this isn’t that Stefani hand-sold my book, or that any indie bookstore did. It’s more the fact that customers at an indie bookstore trust the booksellers. Look, I’ve worked at a Barnes & Noble and while I suggested books I loved to customers, I can tell you it’s not the same relationship. I didn’t see the same people month after month. That’s where indies come in, because readers know they’ve vetted the books. They live and breathe the books they sell, and their readers know it. 

By the way: Number of times Barnes & Noble has reached out? Zero.

Oh, my books are there. But no one — no one — has ever worked harder to sell my books than the indie bookstores. And I happen to believe my book is worth reading, so that’s kinda a big deal. I’m flattered Stefani and other indie booksellers think so, too. 

Stefani — and other indie owners like her, who have done this not for extreme (or any) profits but for pursuing their passion and our passion, too — has done so much for so many writers. She’s put our books out there — Ben Montgomery, Arin Greenwood, Peter Meinke, Erica Sirotich, Bill DeYoung, Gilbert King, Lisa Unger, Connie Mae Fowler, the list goes on and on — and she’s told people about them, matched readers with writers. They open their doors for book clubs, for storytimes, for festivals, and all they ask in return is that when we read, we read books we’ve bought at their bookshop. 

With Inkwood’s closing, Ben and Arin and Peter and Erica and Bill and Gilbert and Lisa and Connie and I will all still write, and y’all will still read, but without Stefani, Toni and Austin, there’s one less reliable bookshop to help people find the best books, the books that can give readers what they want or need right that instant. Every time an indie closes up shop, readers must rely more and more on algorithms that tell them what book to read, and that’s not a road I think any of us want to go down (and if you don’t know why, go into your local indie bookseller and ask them what book you should read that will explain it).

So here’s what you do: You go to Inkwood, right now, today, and you buy books. That’s not going to change Inkwood’s fate, but we all need to show Stefani and her crew how damn much they’ve meant to us. And then, when Inkwood is only a memory, you go to Tombolo. And Haslam’s. And Wilson’s. And every other indie bookstore around you, and you buy books. It doesn’t even have to be a book you want to read — find a Little Free Library near you and put the book in it. Stop buying that shit on Amazon, y’all. Amazon is a fantastic place to get paper towels and cat food but buying books there is killing places like Inkwood.

We love you, Inkwood, and Tampa isn’t going to be the same once you’re gone. 

And thank you.