FLEMING ISLAND – Sweetwood Books is in a transitional period like thousands of independent bookstores across the country.
The bookstore cut its square-footage in half, recently moving to the other side of the same shopping center off County Road 220. The first store opened in 2014. Owner Heather Leigh said the move made things more manageable, and her philosophy to embrace the community hasn’t wavered.
Leigh has been a Clay County resident since 2002. She said she kept waiting for one of the larger bookstores to land in Fleming, which hadn’t seen the bulk of its new development yet.
“It was like, ‘Where’s a bookstore?’ Nothing ever came out here,” Leigh said. “I wanted to bring something cool and funky to the area. Something that I thought people would gravitate to. The other space was just too large to manage.”
Leigh was busy preparing for Sweetwood’s back-to-school book sale. The bookstore hosts story time 10:30 a.m. on Wednesdays, a monthly book club and local authors.
The ability to buy cheap books on Amazon undercuts local bookstores. Leigh said she’s hand-delivered books and made the extra effort for customers.
“How can you compete with someone who uses books as a loss leader?” Leigh said. “It’s crazy. I can’t compete with that.”
Since there’s a book for everyone, the bookstore should be a place for everybody, Leigh said, even when online sellers like Amazon are gutting local competition. Leigh was optimistic for the future of the medium.
“I don’t think books are going to be obsolete. They’ve been around for too long and I don’t see computers taking over the world,” she said. “People still love books, the want to touch them and smell them.”
Leigh earned degrees from the University of Florida and University of Central Florida. She taught at Green Cove Springs Junior High before opening the store.
Sweetwood is Leigh’s mother’s maiden name. Edward Sweetwood, Leigh’s grandfather was an avid Shriner. Sweetwood’s Shriners cap is framed near the front of the store.
“That cap was his prized possession, so my mom had it framed,” Leigh said. “Since his name is on the store, we’re going to put his hat in here.”