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Beowulf, Books, and Ghosts: Haslam's Bookstore, St. Petersburg, Florida

Beowulf, Books, and Ghosts: Haslam's Bookstore, St. Petersburg, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

It doesn’t look like anything special as you drive past, just a painted brick storefront on an otherwise nondescript street. 

But if you turn into the parking lot and venture into the building, you’ll realize that you’ve found something that’s anything but ordinary. 

Beowulf, Books, and Ghosts: Haslam's Bookstore, St. Petersburg, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

Haslam’s Bookstore, located on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg, Florida, is the Southeast’s largest independent bookstore. I’d found a brochure for it while we were out and about elsewhere in the area and immediately put Landon on high alert that we would be making a visit during our time on the Gulf Coast. 

He’s not quite the bookworm that I am, so it helps my cause if I give him some time to adjust to the possibility of wandering around a bookstore for more than five minutes. 

After a good breakfast the next morning (so we’d all be in tip-top shape for our book looking), we piled in the car and headed into St. Petersburg. Landon, who really is a great husband, commandeered our toddler so I could have free reign of the bookstore exploration. 

At exactly 10:02 AM (yes, we were totally those people who came in right as they opened), we barged through the doors, ready to riffle through some pages and find a new treasure. 

Beowulf, Books, and Ghosts: Haslam's Bookstore, St. Petersburg, Florida | CosmosMariners.com
So many books, so little time.

Well, one of the three of us was. I’ll let you guess which. (Hint: It was the former college lit professor amongst us.)

The lovely smells of old books, paper, excitement, and the promise of new things met me at the door—as did two of the sales associates. When one of them saw Britton, he said, “Come meet Beowulf!” 

Despite what you might think, he wasn’t trying to make a new fan of Old English literature, but rather introducing my daughter to the store’s resident cat. Britton, who loves all animals to a ridiculous degree, glommed onto the front desk in an attempt to make best friends with Beowulf. 

The store assistant made Britton’s day (and perhaps her entire year) when he let her feed Beowulf not one, but three cat treats. I’m not sure who was happier—my kid or the cat. 

Because of that warm welcome, we spent most of the rest of our trip like this:
Landon: Hey, Britton, do you want to read this book?
Britton: No. Pet Kitty!
Me: Hey, Britton, let’s read this book. 
Britton: No! PET KITTY! PET KITTY! (dissolves into overwrought, obviously fake crying)
Me: Britton, do you want to go to the car?
(Fake crying continues in earnest.)
Me: Okay, no more kitty if we go to the car.
(She immediately quits crying.)
Britton: Pet kitty. PLEASE.

In between our visits to Beowulf, we managed to do nearly a complete circuit of the rambling store. If you’re looking for something in print, there’s a high likelihood that it is among Haslam’s 300,000 volumes that are kept in-store. I heard customers ask the sales associates for everything from a romance novel to a local history book to Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, all of which were promptly delivered to the customer. 

Since I knew I was on borrowed time with both Britton and Landon accompanying me, I focused my time in the Florida section (since I’m a sucker for local history and ghost stories). If you’re looking for information on anything related to the culture, history, or architecture of the Gulf (or the rest of the state), that aisle is where you need to be. 

Beowulf, Books, and Ghosts: Haslam's Bookstore, St. Petersburg, Florida | CosmosMariners.com

And, if Haslam's couldn't get any more awesome in my book, I found out that it's rumored to be haunted. 

By none other than that wild and crazy '60s literary icon, Jack Kerouac. 

Kerouac, who headed to St. Petersburg after he wrote The Dharma Bums and On the Road, used to come into the bookstore and rearrange the displays so that his were front and center. Naturally, the Haslams didn't enjoy their bookshelves being handled in such a manner and would kick Kerouac out of the bookstore. He'd come back in a day or two and the whole thing would start over again. 

It was your classic love-hate relationship, only with more books than these things usually have. 

When Kerouac's liver finally failed him at 47, rumors began to crop up around the bookstore than Kerouac was having the last laugh. Customers and sales associates would feel a hand on their shoulders--but no one would be there. Books fall off of shelves when there aren't people nearby. 

Whether you believe in ghosts (or not) or whether you love books (or not), Haslam's is a St. Petersburg institution and is well worth a visit. If the huge book selection doesn't win you over, Beowulf will!

What's your favorite independent bookstore?

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