Key West, a town known for its literary influences and famous resident writers, stands to lose two of the three stores that sell new books in the coming weeks.
Voltaire Books, at the corner of Eaton and Simonton streets, is calling it quits at the end of this month, after five years as an independent bookseller in Old Town.
"We haven't had the community support we had hoped for. Our lease is up in December and we just decided there's no point limping through August and September," manager and co-owner Peter Rogers said, blaming the closure on a combination of factors. "Of course, e-books are hurting us, the Kindle and the Nook," he said. "But you've also got Walmart.com selling a $28 book for $9.99."
It was common for Rogers to see shoppers in Voltaire walk through the store with their camera phones, taking pictures of interesting book covers. "Then it was off to Amazon.com they went," he said.
Voltaire will close at the end of July and is currently discounting its entire inventory, Rogers said.
Across town, liquidation started Friday at the Borders Express store on North Roosevelt Boulevard. The national chain also is going out of business.
Discussions are in progress for Borders competitor Books-A-Million to take over an estimated 30 to 35 locations, but corporate spokeswoman Mary David would not say whether Key West is on that list.
"It's my understanding that liquidation will begin at all stores Friday, and it could be halted for any stores on the list to become Books-A-Million locations," she said, adding all other stores will close by September.
Most items in the Key West store were reduced by 10 percent as of Friday afternoon. Greeting cards and magazines were already 40 percent off. The liquidation company will continue discounting the merchandise in the coming weeks as the shelves become bare.
Employees were disappointed, but remained hopeful that Key West's literary reputation may help convince Books-A-Million officials to consider the location. Some employees on Friday were heard encouraging distraught customers to contact the company through its website to support a Key West retail store.
Failing that, Key West Island Books, at 513 Fleming St., with its combination of new and used books, will be the island's sole bookstore that sells new books.
Bargain Books, at 1028 Truman Ave., sells used books, and some of the town's many gift shops, of course, typically have speciality coffee table books.
"It's unbelievable to me, that a place like Key West, with its history of Hemingway, Tennessee Williams, Tom Corcoran and Stuart Woods, would be left with only one bookstore," said Cathy McArthy, a frequent visitor from New York, who happened to be in town for the Hemingway Days festival, an annual event that celebrates the life of one of the town's most influential writers.