Not a good sign.
Irony of ironies, we are losing yet another of our bookstores, right here on the threshold of welcoming attendees to the 30th. annual Key West Literary Seminar. Then, we’ll be down to just one.
January 5, the opening of the seminar, coincides with the closing date of our next-to-last book store on the island. “Yet Another World” (this year’s seminar theme), indeed, in a town rich in literary tradition.
Woven into the very fabric of Key West is a profound legacy of literature, graced by such resident authors, playwrights, and poets as Tennessee Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, Judy Blume, Tom Corcoran, and Nancy Friday … and that’s just for starters.
The Key West Literary Seminar is an internationally-recognized annual event, held in high esteem by writers and followers. And an integral feature of every July’s Hemingway Days is the Lorian Hemingway Short Story Contest. So to say that Key West has historically been a mecca for the literati is an understatement.
Over the summer, our Borders Express succumbed, along with its larger corporate parent, to crippling bankruptcy. But the real heartbreaker was locally-owned Voltaire Books, which shuttered after just five years of specializing in titles of local interest and hosting many a book signing for resident writers. It fell victim to the Kindle and its cousins, as well as online discount book sellers, such as Amazon.com. How disheartening for its owners to have browsers come in, scan the bar code info into their smart phones, and be instantly apprized of competitive pricing by online sellers, whose low overhead and mass distribution capabilities made the local merchants unable to compete.
Now we have the next-to-last survivor, Bargain Books & News Stand, entering its final days. “Delightfully dilapidated” (as one of its afficianados describes it) and steeped in the quirky ambience that is the signature of Key West, Bargain Books has, since the early ‘80s, done double duty in utilizing every bit of its narrow storefront to generate revenue. Incongruously located at the back of the used book stacks in this shoplight-illuminated grotto is Able Body Fitness, a workout room available for use at a small fee. (So why not browse and pump iron?)
It’s a rare occasion when, transiting the garden of our little Key West B&B in the afternoon, there is not a guest lounging by the pool with a good book – or, more often, a stack of them. Regular visitors to the island know Bargain Books as an off-the-tourist-track local find, and make it a regular agenda item to their Key West itineraries. Others have stumbled upon it and stopped in, out of curiosity, discovering treasures while mining through the loosely-organized stacks.
Soon, remaining as the only bookstore in the Southernmost City, will be Key West Island Books, located on Fleming Street in Old Town. A study in organized chaos, finding something specific can be a challenge, so going in with plenty of time and an open mind is requisite for a full appreciation of the place. Its 2,000 square feet is populated with enough volumes to properly display in a space twice its size.
Florida authors from flegling to legendary are represented, often having launched their latest publication with a book signing here. There is even a Rare Book Room offering a signed, first-edition of Ernest Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa – where, for the paltry sum of only $9,000, you can enhance your own private collection.
So, when you’re in the neighborhood, make it a point to visit KW Island Books … before it, too, becomes a relic of the times.
Photo credits to the blog, “Key West Diary”, http://conchscooter.blogspot.com