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The Hustle

Name: Alsace Walentine (Tombolo Books)

Posted By Megan Holmes

In an age where print is generally considered a dying medium, the independent book store remains alive and well. There is no better example of this than Alsace Walentine, the entrepreneurial mind behind Tombolo Books, a new indie book store located on Central Avenue in St. Petersburg. Walentine is quietly making a name for herself in the St. Pete entrepreneurial community with her pop-up book store and traveling collection of reads, specially curated for the audience of the community events she is attending. We first met Alsace at Tampa Bay Start-up Week, where she was learning from - and selling her books to - other local entrepreneurs. Walentine's plans don't stop at her new store location, her first author event will be a book launch party on April 12th at the Arts Xchange for Rob Sanders, author of Pride: The Story of Harvey Milk and the Rainbow Flag.

Years in Tampa Bay

2.5

Hustle (job)

Founder and Owner of Tombolo Books, a new bookshop here in St. Pete, currently in pop-up form.

What do you do?  

The pop-up is a micro version of our future, much larger, bookshop. We curate it with books for all ages, across many genres, and always with our local market in mind. The inventory is updated frequently and always feels fresh; we get new books in twice a week. We hold literary parties here, we recommend books to book clubs and individuals, we sell books at other people's events and starting April 12th we will be hosting author events and selling books at a various locations around town.

Why do you do it?

My job is to get to know our customers so that we can have the best inventory for them. I love to get to know people by talking to them about books. Books aren't products; they are pieces of art that delve into human nature. Much of a bookseller's day is spent figuring out the next best book for each customer by speaking frankly with them about what inspires them. Rarely does a day go by that I don't have a meaningful conversation with a stranger.

What was your Catalyst? (How did you get started?)

I managed an award-winning, nationally recognized independent bookstore in Asheville, NC for over 15 years. My wife was offered a job here and after visiting monthly for 1.5 years I saw that a shop like this would thrive in St. Pete. I spent another two years researching my convictions (studying the demographics, working with the Greenhouse and the Chamber, etc.) And here we are!

What’s a common misconception or unknown aspect of what you do?

Some non-readers who aren't attuned to current trends think paper books and bookshops are dead, but e-books filled their niche and e-reader sales plateaued about 4 years ago, while indie bookshops have been on the rise for the past 7 years.

What’s the most challenging part of your Hustle?

A fun challenge is reaching new markets. We're working on getting those people who used to read, but have since been distracted by their digital devices, to come into the store for a first time. We've had many customers become regulars and claim that they're finally reading books again!

What’s the most valuable piece of business advice/insight that’s helped you?

Build in regular time for visioning.


Why St. Pete?

We have such an engaged, enthusiastic, supportive entrepreneurial community here. Someone is always excited to help.

What's on the horizon?

Opening our full-scale, full-service brick and mortar in a pedestrian friendly part of town where we will have enough space for people to leisurely browse a wider selection, to meet with their book clubs, to meet their favorite traveling authors.

What is the most valuable business book you've read recently?

Some of my favorite business books are Deep Work by Cal Newport, Work Rules! by Laszlow Bock and I'm about to read The Obstacle is the Way (recommended to me by one of our customers) by Ryan Holiday.

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