This post also appears on Medium.com: https://medium.com/@sunnylancasterpoetry/a-farewell-to-haslams-1894b7214ccf. All photos were taken by me on 9/17/22.
A Farewell to Haslam’s
Haslam’s Book Store Inc. is located at 2025 Central Avenue North in Saint Petersburg, Florida and is listed as permanently closed. The store was founded in 1933 and has since boasted the title of largest new and used bookstore in Florida (link). It was in business nearly ninety years and the structures that make up the storefront and its storage buildings still stand in the historic Grand Central District.
Haslam’s was an institution, the one hideaway us introverted Petersburgians had left to meander through, while dodging the massive growth underway in our beautiful city. Before the pandemic of 2019, it was a regular stop for me on Sundays and I wasn’t, by any means, alone. Haslam’s, at my last visit, shortly before they closed their doors for good, was, by all appearances, thriving.
I didn’t know my last visit to Haslam’s was to be my actual last visit. They slipped out quietly in the night, it seems, with no grand sale or sell off, no fanfare, no nothing. If I had the insight to know the COVID-19 pandemic would have taken the wind out of Suzanne Haslam and Ray Hinst’s sails for selling books, I would have looked more closely at the local author section, picked up a smattering of their true crime books, and definitely left with more titles than usual under my arm. It was a bibliosmia paradise with many rooms, spanning 30,000 sq. feet of space, and housing up to 300,000 titles (source). Haslam’s has made no public statement about what will become of their inventory, so I may yet have a chance to take a crack at what remains of their selection.
John and Mary Haslam started the book shop during the Great Depression, giving residents the opportunity to either rent or purchase books. The Haslam family moved the business to the Central Avenue location in 1964 and it’s remained there ever since. In the 1960’s, Jack Kerouac was known to frequent the bookseller on a regular basis. Haslam’s has been owned and operated by the third generation of the family, Suzanne and John, since 1973.
Saint Petersburg, Florida has experienced a lot of growth and change over the past decade. We have seen condos and high rises take over historic areas, such as downtown, Grand Central, and the Marina District, and there’s no stopping the rapid growth. We’re experiencing the Tampa-fication of this once, charming and beautiful city. With these additions comes opportunity; new residents boost the economy, allow for new jobs, and growth adds to the selection of dining and recreation within the city.
However, once Haslam’s is torn down too, its manila façade replaced by new, concrete pillars, its simple parking lot transformed into a multilevel parking garage, and its books replaced by fly-by-night restaurants and boutiques, what will we remember for the next ninety years? Will the replacement have the staying power of a bookselling, family business that stuck out our fair city through the Great Depression, major wars, the technology revolution, and the beginning of the twenty-first century?