By Mims Cushing
Now that the holiday shopping frenzy has passed, here’s something to do with your time: take yourself to Chamblin Bookmine, 4551 Roosevelt Blvd. in Jacksonville. Check the website for hours, or call (904) 384-1685. They might have a book or two that will appeal. In fact there might be two million books that might interest you, in that store alone. Another store, Chamblin’s Uptown, at 215 North Laura Street is smaller, less overwhelming and has a cafe. There are three Chamblins in all, with books totaling three million, if you include the warehouse on Forest Street, which you can visit by appointment.
Being a bit of a snoop — that is, a former journalist — I discovered the owner, Ron Chamblin, was in the store when I was there, happy to chat by phone later in the week. He opened the store in 1976 having worked with a man who sold books out of his home. When young, Chamblin read reluctantly, but loves non-fiction now.
“I wish I had more leisure time to read,” he said, sometimes reading at two in the morning. “The growth of these stores just seems to evolve without effort. We must be doing something right.”
The two retail stores have a total of 55,000 square feet.
The size of the Roosevelt Boulevard store is staggering. Wear comfortable shoes. If you go with a friend, bring cell phones or you might never see each other again.
Thirty people work in all three stores — sorting, pricing, shelving. Some books are brand new or sent from distributors, brought in by estate liquidators or donated by reviewers who receive advance copies of books. The majority of books are from customers who can receive either a small amount of cash or they may trade their gently used books for other books. Eleven pages of general categories of books are listed on the website.
Winding my way around a long corridor, here’s what I found: Long separate shelves of sub-categories labelled Inquisition, Charlemagne, Goths, Byzantium, Crusades, Medieval Knights, Reformation, Renaissance, Enlightenment, Historiography … and that’s a small sampling. My mind swirled. I ran out of paper to write down all the categories. So I took a different route back to the front of the store, winding around a section on Barbie dolls.
I also looked at books from an alphabetical standpoint. What commercial store has separate bookshelves devoted to Aeschylus, Albee, Anouilh, Aristophanes … ? Well, you get the idea.
Only 2 percent of the books are current or bestsellers. The 2016 “A Time of Torment” (Connolly) and “Duty and Honor” (Clancy) were half off and the 2015 Pulitzer Prize winning book about George H. Walker Bush, “Destiny and Power” by Jon Meacham, which retails at $55, sells here for $27. It’s more than 700 pages, in mint condition.
My friend David, who was with me that day poking through Chamblin’s, was happy to find “The Fundamentals of Differential Equations and Boundary Value Problems.” Kill me now if I ever have to read that. It made me feel illiterate just to have it smirking at me in the back seat of his car as we drove home.
Chamblin’s online inventory represents 40,000 of their millions of books. So if you can’t find what you want, visit chamblinbookmine.com and order it online.
I love to shop in big book stores and also “the indies.” They are far less frazzling. But if you’re a bookaholic, cross the ditch and check out Chamblin Bookmine. As for me at the moment I need to hunker down with some TV.