Searstown is long gone. The walls taken down and replaced by a grocery store. Then another grocery store.
Sunshine Mall a memory. In its place a series of apartments and condominiums.
Throughout five decades of change along Missouri Avenue, Paperback Palace, filled with romance, adventure and science fiction, was there.
In an era of e-books, Kindles and e-readers, Tarry and Steve Schaffner decided to retire, recently shuttering the doors to Paperback Palace, home to nearly 100,000 paperback books.
“Now we’re ready for retirement basically,” Tarry said.
When the Schaffners decided to give up the business and started telling customers, they were asked to stay open and keep selling greeting cards. So, the Schaffners are opening another store in the same plaza, selling greeting cards, gifts and gift bags as well as Avon items. Their son and his family will run A & M, the name of the business.
But the books are gone.
Tarry and Steve Schaffner bought Paperback Palace in 2000. It had been in the plaza near Missouri Avenue and Lakeview Road since 1975.
The store has gone through its changes. The previous owners started selling greeting cards in 1997, Tarry said. Those owners also removed Mad Magazines and other more "adult" titles around that time, she said.
The plan to retire was months in the works, Tarry said. The Schaffners started clearing out titles in Novemeber. There were about 100,000 books. With about a week from moving and opening the greeting card store there were about 50,000 books.
Many of the books have been donated to Hillsborough and Pinellas County Jails, nursing homes and to church groups for their rummage sales.
The book business is not the same as it used to be.
Students at Clearwater and Largo high schools no longer come in and buy required reading, she said, especially not since Kindles were issued to students at Clearwater High.
Schaffner said she is surprised sometimes to hear from longtime customers who also made changes in their reading habits. Customers who used to come in weekly, started to come in every six months. Then not at all.
Usually those customers disappeared after getting an e-reader as a gift, she said. Others did not realize the store still was in business.
“The tide started to change about 8-9 years ago,” Schaffner said, while standing against the counter at the front of the store drawing lightly from a cigarette. “Things just changed... It’s just the times.”
An aged ABA (American Booksellers Association) sticker clung to a window near the front doors. On the windows signs were taped letting customers know the store is closing. A similar handwritten letter was taped to the front door:
“Thank you for all of the friendship and patronage. Remember to visit out new “Card Boutique” opening the first week of March.”
With her plans are on retirement, Tarry still plans to be around books.
“You’ll never stop me from reading," she said.
If you go:
What: A & M
When: From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday
Sign up for the free Clearwater Patch email newsletter to stay connected to your community.