The independent bookstore, housed in a 1923 mint green bungalow, is onto its next chapter. Stefani Beddingfield, 46, took ownership of Inkwood Books at 216 S Armenia Ave., Tampa, on April 1, 2013.
Before becoming the new owner, Beddingfield was one of Inkwood’s treasured customers.
Carla Jimenez, 59, and Leslie Reiner, 58, founded Inkwood more than 23 years ago. “I found out it was for sale by the previous owners,” Beddingfield said, “And it was all just sort of by chance — it wasn’t anything on my radar.” She had been a loyal customer for years and had always loved Inkwood, but didn’t have any intention of opening her own business.
“Some people say ‘Wow, you’re living my dream of owning a bookstore,”’ she said. “But for me it wasn’t like that. It was just something at the right time in my life.”
Beddingfield was a stay-at-home Tampa mother of two daughters, Sarah and Claire. She was already taking on an active, successful role within her community by raising half a
million dollars to build the city's first playground accessible to children with disabilities.
Beddingfield’s oldest daughter, Sarah, has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. “When I would take her to playgrounds, when she was little, there were no places for her to play outside. She couldn’t get around,” she said. “I started working with the city of Tampa and a local architect to design an inclusive playground.”
After six years of fundraising, Beddingfield made her goal a reality. “I don’t think the city of Tampa believed I was actually going to do it,” she said. “My first donation was $5.”
Beddingfield raised money by asking for donations and holding fundraisers. When she gathered around $50,000 in funds, she returned to Tampa Parks and Recreation to ask for a second opinion.
Mayor Pam Iorio, the 57th Mayor of Tampa at the time, said she would match whatever Beddingfield could raise.
“I don’t think she knew what she was saying when she said it,” Beddingfield said. “We ended up having close to a million dollars by the time we were done.”
Beddingfield raised enough funds to build two playgrounds. In 2008, “Freedom Playground” was established at MacFarlane Park on MacDill Avenue. In 2009, the second playground, “Imagining Possibilities,” was built for Grady Elementary School. “The school, itself, has a lot of children with disabilities,” she said. “It was great, it was truly a labor of love. I also didn’t plan on doing that.”
Today, Beddingfield wishes she could go back to the conference. “Now that I’ve done it for a year, I have all these questions,” she said. “…With merchandising, with what makes the store stand out, how to put your personal touch on things…”
Amanda Hurley, a devoted employee to Inkwood Books, has worked for the bookstore under both old and new ownership. She doesn’t think Beddingfield has to worry because she is a strong-willed, successful owner — one who really cares for her community. “She recently put in a coffee bar and made renovations to the front porch, so book clubs can now meet out there,” Hurley said. “As an independent bookstore, we always have to distinguish ou
Hurley said it’s important to be innovative and provide customers with what can’t be found online. “You can’t replace community connection. This is the reason why Stefani wanted a coffee bar and started housing refreshments at author readings,” she said. “We are always thinking of what the customers want and need.”
“In fall and spring, we have about three-four events per week,” Hurley said. Inkwood recently hosted Ace Atkins, a current Oxford resident and former Florida newspaper crime reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author. The store also stocked up on Diet Ginger Ale for Chelsea Handler, an American comedian, actress, and author. Other recent visiting authors include Markus Zusak, John Dufresne, and Ken Watson.
Beddingfield installed speakers throughout the bookstore, so customers can enjoy browsing books while listening to a song like “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Hurley and Beddingfield also read up on the latest book releases so they can stay informed for their customers. “We’re readers and book lovers too,” Hurley said. “We can give our customers recommendations.”
Independent businesses run in Beddingfield’s family and she said it was her parents that instilled in her the determination, hard working mentality, and perseverance she finds so crucial in ownership, “I don’t give up too easily,” she said. “My dad is a citrus farmer and from him I learned a lot. He relied on weather — on Mother Nature — and that reliance makes you a risk taker. Beddingfield’s mother is a recently retired fifth grade teacher. “She always said to do you homework. I didn’t think I ever had a choice.”
“When I bought the store, I had to go to the Bank of Tampa to get a loan. The president there knew me and his daughter also had a disability,” Beddingfield said. “He said, ‘I know when you set your mind to something, you get it done.’”
Ty Beddingfield, Beddingfield’s brother, is also an independent business owner. He is the master barista at Buddy Brew Coffee in Tampa Bay. His coffee is carefully selected, from farmers who thoughtfully grow and process beans to their highest quality. His products can be found all over town, including at the Oxford Exchange across from University of Tampa.
Beddingfield’s brother was a strong influence and mentor in the beginning stages of her Inkwood ownership. “He wasn’t skeptical but he just never let me be romantic,” she said.
“You know, the romantic notion of owning a bookstore — wearing long skirts, owning a cat, having those little reading glasses — he never let me go there.”
Beddingfield’s brother and father were often reminding her of the importance in making a profit.
“So whenever I would go down the road of a romantic, by saying the girls could come over to the book store after school, they would remind me it was my business,” she said.
Beddingfield did her homework before owning Inkwood, and it wasn’t easy.
She didn’t, however, think she was going to be thanked by customers for what she had done. “People don’t want to lose books. They thanked me for saving ’wood,” she said.
When it comes to eBooks compared to actual books, Beddingfield is a bigger fan of the traditional written word. But she isn’t afraid of eBooks taking over print sales. “When movies when to DVD, people said no one was going to notice the movie theatres anymore. And that’s not true,” she said. “Now they have more options. I don’t think anything can actually replace a real book.”
Walking into a business that had already been established did come with some challenges for Beddingfield.
She said it was good in the sense that people were already aware of the business. They knew the name.
“But there’s always those adjustments where afterwards you hear ‘the previous owners did it this way,” she said. “You go into the growing pains of being the new kid. Nothing too extreme, but you have to find your own way.”
Beddingfield’s renovations included changing the outside paint from yellow to a mint green. She also incorporated signs for bookshelves with labels such as “Home” and “Staff Picks.” She opened up the house and entryway, changed around the furniture, and built a new ramp down the back exit. She is holding many more events to give customers the ability to go out and socialize on the newly renovated porch. “It’s a way to say ‘hey, it’s a new Inkwood,” she said.
“I wanted Inkwood to feel like my book club — warm and welcoming, with good discussion, good books, good people, food, and drinks,” Beddingfield said. “I wanted it to have a warmness — that’s what I was envisioning.”
One regular customer recalls a librarian living in Inkwood in its earlier years. Beddingfield said she wasn’t sure if the librarian story was factual, but the older gentleman does recall coming to the store as a child. He had visited the bungalow in its earlier years for biscuits and gravy. He still comes in today. “When I come in the morning, there’s usually a random book on the floor, and I’m thinking there’s no way a librarian would own this house because she would shelve all of these books,” she said. “I kno
Beddingfield said how important it is to have a constant flow, of not just regulars, but customers who are constantly discovering Inkwood. It’s important not to just depend on the regulars, as valuable and important as they are. Her primary goal with opening Inkwood was keeping the business within the community. An independent bookstore was extremely important to her. She wanted to have a living and support her family in a way that she enjoyed and was flexible enough.
Recently, Beddingfield had a pajama party for children’s book week. Children could come after dinner to have cookies and juice at Inkwood. She gave them the opportunity to also sit in the chair and read to each other. “It was really fun, I was in my pajamas too,” she said.
“And I had customers come in before the event and here I was in my own pajamas, they were really vibrant, they looked battery operated—shiny and paisley and pink.” There’s a picture floating around of Beddingfield in her pajamas from another bookseller.
If you know Inkwood, you know there are author signings and events. But most customers don’t realize that the independent store can specially order books. Beddingfield makes these special orders three times a week and they arrive within a couple of days. “We’re not necessarily trying to compete with online retailers, but we do have the ability to get books if you can’t find them on the shelves.”
When it comes to the advantages of being an independent business owner, Beddingfield mentioned the benefits of being her own decision maker. The business is certainly independently minded. She recently had a tequila tasting for the book, “Tequila Mockingbird: Cocktails with a Literary Twist.” She joked about how you wouldn’t be able to do that in a corporate setting. “There were customers who came that night for the first time and they said it was the best bookstore they ever went to,” she said. “I was thinking—is that the tequila talking or do you really like it here?”
“The disadvantages are that you’re competing with—not just online retailers—but whatever anyone wants to do with their time,” Beddingfield said. “You’re constantly figuring out ways to attract people, do fun things, and hold events. Occasionally I walk out of here and think ‘who is paying the phone bill?’—Oh wait, that’s me.”
It’s also challenging to manage a 1920s bungalow home. Beddingfield is often working hard to maintain the building against Florida’s sun and water. The first year was big on maintaining and learning. She said, “If you let it go, it will go.”
As far as for the future of Inkwood and plans for retirement, Beddingfield does not see herself putting Inkwood Books’ ownership on her daughters, especially if they don’t want it. She said her father never did that to her family with his agricultural business, although it could have been an ownership opportunity. “They weren’t that type of parents. We were
“When I took over Inkwood, I went to visit my grandmother who is 94 — and I thought that’s good that I have longevity,” Beddingfield said. “Being middle-aged and starting completely over in something, I think if I live to 94 then that will be good.” She said she already made a deal with Hurley that she could never become the crazy book lady.
And what book is Beddingfield currently reading? The Raft by S.A. Bodeen. She said that she can’t put it down and it’s currently on the Sunshine State Young Reader's Award Program’s Book list. SSYRA is a program co-sponsored by the Office of Library Media and the Florida Association for Media in Education (FAME). It was established in 1984 to motivate students in grades 3-8 to read contemporary literature for enjoyment. She thinks it’s important to encourage young readers. As far as authors she hopes to visit the store in the future, she would love to meet Dave Eggers and Zadie Smith.
For the summer, during June, Beddingfield is introducing cookbook type events with tastings into Inkwood. One visiting chef will be Gale Gand, a Chicago-based pastry chef, cookbook author, television personality, and winner of the 2001 James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef.
For anyone who hasn’t stepped inside Inkwood Books before, Beddingfield joked that she will never judge what customers read. She said if customers haven’t come in, “they just need to come.” “We have fun,” she said. She also joked that “Inkwood does not sell used textbooks—or any textbooks—and they don’t buy textbooks.”
“Support your local business, whatever it is you love to support in your community. Do it locally because it stays here and it makes your city or your town interesting.” Beddingfield said that doesn’t just mean independent bookstores — it could mean a restaurant, a toy store, or whatever is found local.
“An independent place allows you to tell someone what makes Tampa fun, different, or interesting,” she said. “It’s what you have here. If we just become the Wal-Mart, then it’s pretty sad.”
Inkwood Books is located at 216 S. Armenia Ave., Tampa. For more information, call 813-253-2638 or visit inkwoodbooks.com. You can subscribe to Inkwood’s emailing list, add them on Facebook, and follow them on Instagram to find out more about monthly events.