Independently owned, specialty retailers face a struggle, even in smaller communities like St Augustine, largely because of the buying power of mass merchandisers to drive prices down and the appeal and convenience of Internet shopping.
St Augustine, where less than 50 years ago almost every retailer was independent, still has a few boutique and specialty retailers; but they are quickly and quietly going by the wayside — one notable, recent example, is Hamblen Hardware on King Street.
Historic City News received an announcement from Barbara E Nailler, that, after 24 years in St Augustine, and over 30 years as a bookseller, Wolf’s Head Books on San Marco Avenue will be closing its doors soon. “I’ve already worked way past retirement age,” Nailler admits. “But, I want to go out with grace, like a genteel bookworm”.
According to Nailler, who, with her late husband Harvey Wolf, opened the first Wolf’s Head Books in Morgantown, West Virginia, in 1980, says independent used bookstores have been hurting since the faltering economy reduced customers’ cash flow and overheads kept rising.
“With so many internet sellers—over 10,000 on just one book-broker site—used books have become more readily available,” Nailler said. “In addition, many older and previously scarce books are now available in print-on-demand paperback or hardback formats.”
There is a national trend among independent booksellers to close their brick-and-mortar operations in favor of online sales and appointment-only ventures.
When she and her late husband traveled on vacation, they began collecting books. At one point, they had accumulated some 3,000 to 4,000 volumes in nearly every room of their home, Nailler said.
So, after 13 years of teaching educational psychology at Fairmont State College, Nailler said that she put her dream of opening a store filled with used, out-of-print, and rare books into action. She dream-tested first by consigning books, then apprenticing in a store, discovering that she really loved the book business.
Nailler ran their first store while Wolf kept teaching public administration at West Virginia University. “West Virginia was a great place for country auctions,” Nailler recollects, “especially for books on regional American history and Civil War.”
Harvey Wolf spent two years at West Point, so, when a large collection on WW I military intelligence was purchased in Boston, the store began to specialize in military history.
The search to live near a warm-water ocean in a town with a high quality of history, culture, and charm, led them to St Augustine. Both Nailler and Wolf knew from experience that people passing through town were the best customers and St Augustine offered tourists.
In 1996, Nailler’s nephew Michael Theeke became a full-time employee with a shared love of the book business. His graduate degree in German and Russian history provided staff expertise for the store’s world history and foreign language collections.
The time has come for Barbara Nailler to liquidate her collection of about 15,000 books and at least as many collectibles including military manuals, hymnals, sheet music, menus, travel pamphlets, and thousands of postcards. Nailler is committed, but she will tell you, “It is an overwhelming task”.
Until her inventory is sold, Nailler says that she will be opened seven days a week in the store located at 67-B San Marco Avenue.