I hate when a local business closes. The only exception is when the long-time owners are folding up shop so they can move to the tropics.
Sadly, that’s seldom the reason.
I gave an involuntary gasp last week when I drove by Hall Book Exchange on Thompson Bridge Road and saw the red and white going out of business signs. It wasn’t just sadness that infused the rest of my day. There was a healthy dose of guilt, too. Even though I’d been a long-time customer, I hadn’t done much in the past few years to ensure its success. I cast a guilty glance at the Kindle e-reader in my purse.
Hall Book Exchange has been around for more than three decades. Mary McKenzie opened it in 1983. I discovered it early on and completely embraced the idea of trading in paperbacks two-for-one. Free books — what’s not to love?
We were eventually neighbors in Northlake Shopping Center on Cleveland Highway and my children spent many happy afternoons swapping out their Little Golden Books for different ones.
Myra Meade, an employee since 1995, bought the shop in 2001 and moved it to the current, much larger location. With more space, she was able to expand and carry hardback books, both new and used. It was our go-to place for required reading texts . There were book signings featuring both local and nationally known authors.
Myra smiled as she recalled the yearly appearance of Diana Palmer, one of America’s leading romance novelists. Readers came from as far away as Puerto Rico and Canada for those events.
Hall Book Exchange hosted the yearly read-a-thon to benefit the Gainesville/Hall County Alliance for Literacy. Each October, for the past six years, the shop was thrown open for 24 hours. Readers would gather pledges based on how many hours they read. Local authors made appearances throughout the day and night. There were snacks, door prizes and Myra’s signature spiced apple cider. Dorothy Shinafelt, the Alliance’s director, estimates that the events raised a grand total of about $12,000.
For five of those years, our daughter, Rachel, was responsible for presenting the children’s bedtime story. She would find the gaudiest green sequined gown imaginable, don a pair of pipe cleaner antennae and perform Carmen Agra Deedy’s “Martina the Beautiful Cockroach.” Many of the children, year after year regulars, could chant along with her: “Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha. Beautiful muchacha. Won’t you be my wife?”
One year, Myra received a call from a vendor offering to provide the cereal for the read-a-thon’s breakfast. She had never heard of a brand called what she understood to be “Numasone” but gratefully accepted it. Imagine her surprise when a case of “Newman’s Own” cereal arrived at her door.
Now, there won’t be another read-a-thon. Herman, the shop tabby, won’t be lounging in a stray sunbeam between the shelves.
When I visited with Myra earlier this week, the book cases were emptying out nicely. She chose not to speculate on what had caused the drop in sales that eventually led to the closing. Rather, she focused on the positive, remarking,” Not many people get the opportunity to spend 19 years doing what they love. I just want to thank all my customers.”
There was a catch in her voice as she said, “On the grand scheme of things, it’s been a good run.”
Of course, Myra’s not completely leaving the book business. That’s just unthinkable. She will continue, as she has done for years, to deliver books to patients in hospitals and assisted living facilities and to the home-bound. She is maintaining her relationship with book distributors and can order books for anyone needing them.
The Alliance for Literacy has decided not to continue the read-a-thons without HBE. They still have their annual spelling bee and for this year’s second fundraiser , they will be partnering with other area non-profits in “Dancing with a Cause,” a “Dancing with the Stars”-style program with local celebrity dancers and judges. It sounds like a blast but I would have sure loved a chance to see yet another Martina the Beautiful Cockroach performance.
Shinafelt summed up the emotions of many when she said, “This is an incredible loss to the community. This was gathering place for book lovers.” The support and exposure that was afforded local authors was invaluable.
So what’s next for Myra? She’s not sure but she’s up to the challenge. The other night she took her granddaughter out for Chinese food. Her fortune cookie read, “You will be making many changes before you settle down happily.”
That is indeed my prayer for her. Godspeed, Myra.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.