Founded in 1933 during the Great Depression, Haslam’s Bookstore is a “third place” for many people in the small St. Petersburg, FL community. Its owners share great stories with regular customers, celebrate local authors, and revel in helping people find books that sometimes change lives. Checking email on an iPhone and downloading the latest John Grisham thriller from Amazon, many wonder about the future of independent booksellers. Haslam’s, however, is not a typical bookstore.
According to Ray Hinst, the manager of Haslam’s Bookstore since 1973, Haslam’s is haunted. Perhaps the most notable story begins with Jack Kerouac. Back in the 1950’s, an inebriated Jack Kerouac frequented Haslam’s so that he could relocate his books to the more prominent top shelves. Fast-forward to a few years ago, Jack’s books mysteriously began dropping from Haslam’s shelves. When word spread, psychics flocked to investigate. After full-fledged Ghostbuster-style investigations, the psychics proclaimed that Haslam’s is teeming with spirits, and Jack Kerouac’s spirit is likely among them as he attempts to reshelf his books.
Judge Robert Beach is a believer. In fact, Judge Beach, a prolific world traveler, has reserved his own section in Haslam’s travel book section. Haslam’s has even affixed a small brass placard in the travel section that reads “Reserved for the spirit of Judge Robert E. Beach.
Reminiscent of how the wands choose the wizards in the Harry Potter tales, Ray says that if you feel a strong connection with a book you pull from the shelf, you should buy it. Ray believes strongly that Haslam’s customers are bound to the books they ponder.
“To pick up a book and put it back on the shelf sets off a perturbation in the universe.”
Numerous stories prove Ray’s theory as he recounts some amazing coincidences relating to customers and books. One of his more memorable stories concerned a woman who was seeking an uncommon translation of a hand bible. As Ray handed the woman the book she sought, she discovered her mother’s name embossed inside the cover of the book. It was her mother’s bible. Even more amazing, neither the customer nor her mother ever lived in the area.
In an interesting coincidence of my own, I took a friend to visit the bookstore one rainy weekend. As she perused the spiritual/occult/religious section, she stopped abruptly to observe two books she randomly shelved on her own bookshelf at home were staring back at her in the same order on the Haslam’s bookshelf.
Yet again, we’re reminded of the Harry Potter stories as Tea Cup, a lanky, mottled grey feline born feral and raised at Haslam’s, slinks around the store like Crookshanks. Tea Cup, who warily slinks through the store, leaps onto high shelves and even sits on the register as she observes the throngs of customers milling around the store. Like Crookshanks in the Harry Potter tales, Tea Cup seems capable of judging persons with ill intentions. On more than one occasion, Tea Cup has alerted the staff to nefarious customers.
Haslam’s allure lies in serendipitous search and discovery. Old physical books, inseparable from the spiritual realm, offer travel to far lands, adventures in outlandish fantasies, and maybe even a connection to the original book owner long passed from the physical world. If you believe in ghosts, this is a great place to haunt on a Saturday afternoon. If not, it is still a great place to discover old books just waiting to “choose” you.