“In a good bookroom you feel in some mysterious way that you are absorbing the wisdom contained in all the books through your skin, without even opening them.” – Mark Twain
Chamblin Bookmine is an inconspicuous one-story building nestled nearly below a bridge at 4551 Roosevelt Boulevard on the Westside of Jacksonville, Florida. The outside, bearing faded paint and letters, is ordinary and seemingly small, but as soon as you step into the store, you will find yourself in awe of its vast size. Misleading, like the magical wardrobe Lewis created, Chamblin’s will shock you with the worlds you find inside. But keep track of where that lamp post is because you will have difficulty finding your way out! The labyrinthine aisles will both confuse and delight you.
One customer said, “I think every book ever written can be found in Chamblin’s.” With a stock of over two million books (spanning both stores and a warehouse), this seems to be true – although, it may take some searching.
If you’re looking for a centralized location, Chamblin’s Uptown is a newer store situated in downtown Jacksonville, near the Main Library and Hemming Plaza (215 N. Laura Street). Featuring breezy seating in its outdoor patio where you can people watch and sip a coffee from the Café located just inside, Chamblin’s Uptown is a smaller two-story version of the Roosevelt location. Though, take heed: you can still get lost in this one, so you may want to follow the advice of Daedalus and bring a ball of yarn! Unless, of course, you want to vanish within the labyrinth of books… (Okay, okay. I admit it. I DO!).
I’ve always loved used books. I’m thrilled by the simple smell of them: the dusty, leathery, grassy, warm scent of an old, secondhand book – it’s absolutely delightful. When I walk through a place like Chamblin’s, I get a special feeling. Most of the books sold there are used, so each item has its own unique history and character, has been handled by countless readers and perusers. The pages have been turned and dog-eared an infinite amount of times, in an innumerable amount of places. Not only do you hold a written story when you pick up a used book, but you grasp an endless supply of unwritten stories as well.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Ron Chamblin, owner and founder of Chamblin Bookmine and Chamblin’s Uptown, as well as his daughter, Jean Chamblin Koss, who manages the Bookmine location. Enjoy.
How was Chamblin Bookmine founded? How about Chamblin’s Uptown?
Ron: I opened the store in 1976 at a small location on Herschel Street, having bought books from Cy Crawford, who operated Crawford Bookmine out of various house locations for many years. Chamblin’s Uptown was opened as a result of having too many books in stock at the original store and in a warehouse, therefore giving an additional outlet for selling.
Why sell books? Why not something else?
Ron: One doesn’t have to sell anything I suppose. But if one has to, I can think of few things to sell as pleasurable as books, as they are full of so much about life and history.
Jean, how did you come to work for your dad? Did you grow up hanging out in the store? What is it like working with your family? [Ron’s daughter, Jennifer, and son-in-law, Scott also work at the stores]
Jean: I was in the fashion/cosmetic business for a long time and decided to get involved in the family business. And we did grow up hanging around the bookstore. Working with family has its pros and cons. A lot of people assume we get free books and that we can do whatever we want, when really it’s just the opposite. My father is pretty strict, but he has taught us a lot of valuable tools, and I am grateful for that.
What do you love most about your job?
Jean: The people.
Ron: I love being around books and ideas.
Who has been your most interesting (or most famous) customer?
Ron: The poet and originator of City Lights Bookstore visited once, his name being Lawrence Ferlinghetti. I returned a visit to his store in 1999 or so.
What kind of readers would you say the store attracts most?
Jean: It’s impossible to narrow it down. We have everyone from all walks of life and interests. I’ve even had customers get into debates and arguments at the counter with each other over politics and religion.
Ron: The most voluminous readers are those reading the mysteries and romances.
Do you have a current favorite book? What was one of the first books you fell in love with?
Jean: My current favorite book is an autobiography on Diana Vreeland, who is one of my fashion icons. She was one of the first fashion editors for Vogue. I think Disney’s Cinderella was one of the first books I read as a little girl.
Ron: I really have no favorite book, having read so many, and so many parts of many, which is the way I like to do. I read very little fiction, loving non-fiction. The first book I recall reading as a child, and probably the first book I read by myself, was Lassie Come Home.
What would you say is special about used books?
Ron: The used book environment places one in a realm away from the hoopla of “best sellers” and other recent junk, and allows one to roam more easily throughout history for the great treasures of the past.
Has the e-book industry affected business at all? How? If not, do you expect it to eventually?
Ron: I am sure that e-books has delved into our sales, the degree to which I’m not sure, sensing that it has so far been very little. The future will find e-books encroaching more into our sales I am sure. However, I believe that the essence and nature of real books will allow for their continued existence past our lifetimes, and probably as collectibles for as long as the earth exists.
Most people liken Chamblin Bookmine to a maze, since there are countless aisles to easily get lost in. What is your favorite section or corner of the store? Are there any hidden passageways or portals to another realm?
Jean: My personal favorite, of course, is the fashion section! And yes, there are all kinds of secret rooms and passageways. It would make a great haunted house.
Ron: Being a non-fiction person, I like to get lost in the history sections, the philosophy and the science sections, as these provide great browsing pleasure for me. There are two hidden rooms or closets in the store, both being behind shelves which open out into the aisle. Both are now used for storing supplies, whereas one was previously used as a place to take a nap.
Your website says that you host monthly book club & writing group meetings at Uptown. Can you provide details on those events?
Ron: These events are various, coming and going, to accommodate the wishes of those desiring to hold them at Chamblin’s Uptown. I am so busy with the process of buying and selling books these days, I have not given them as much time as they deserve. The future should see more attention to these events.
Based on your experience selling books, do you have advice for aspiring authors who wish to publish their work?
Jean: Write with passion!!!
Ron: One can self publish. One can place one’s work for e-book distribution on platforms such as the cancerous entity called Amazon. However, the most important ingredient of any work, is to make it of such quality that it will, by its own strength and profound nature, emerge into mainstream publishing.
Note: Chamblin’s accepts your unwanted books to trade in for store credit or cash, although if you take the cash, it’s 25% less than the store credit. But why would you want cash anyway? Store credit means more books!
Pictures: 1. An aisle at Chamblin’s. 2. “Real Books!” sign and lampost. 3. Ron Chamblin behind the counter. 4. Jean Chamblin. 5. The Horror room. 6. Ron Chamblin with his 1934 Ford Fordor Sedan Deluxe. Photographs by Jose Lopez and Joanna Ring.
For more information on Chamblin’s, visit: http://chamblinbookmine.com