[St. Augustine, FL] Another independent bookstore is closing. But to many, Wolf’s Head Books in St. Augustine is more than just an indie retailer offering used reading material and collectibles – it is a local landmark.
That’s right, after 32 years of serving up mind food and great conversation to residents and visitors alike, Wolf’s Head Books is soon to become yet another piece of history in a tourist town steeped in days gone by.
And for avid readers and collectors this is a rare opportunity to fill your shelves because – as they say in those too-loud TV commercials – “everything must go.”
Liquidating 15,000 books and at least as many ephemera collectibles “is an overwhelming task,” says Barbara Nailler of Wolf’s Head Books.
This bookstore holds treasures for sure. Its inventory includes 40% military, 20% literature, 20% regional American history and genealogy, and about 10% world history with a remaining mix of serious and fun reading.
The ephemera includes military manuals, hymnals, sheet music, menus, travel pamphlets, and thousands of postcards.
Nailler and her late husband Harvey Wolf opened their first bookstore in Morgantown, West Virginia, in 1980.
Dynamic duo: Archive photo of Barbara Nailler and Harvey Wolf
Nailler’s dream after 13 years of teaching educational psychology at Fairmont State College was to open a store filled with used, out-of-print, and rare books. She dream-tested first by consigning books, then apprenticing to a store, and found she really loved the book business.
Before leasing a storefront, Nailler and Wolf started collecting books during vacation travel, storing some 3,000 to 4,000 volumes in nearly every room of their home. On their first store, the sign – Wolf’s Head Books – was black letters painted on opaque glass bricks, then back lit for dramatic effect.
Nailler ran the 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.”
However, their first big collection of 500 nature-related books came from an estate sale on the west coast of Michigan and then a collection of literature from Uniontown, Pennsylvania.
When another large collection on WW I military intelligence was purchased in Boston, Wolf’s Head Books began to specialize in military history (Harvey Wolf had spent two years at West Point).
Both Nailler and Wolf knew that they wanted to reside near a warm-water ocean in a town that would draw tourists. Their experience in West Virginia showed that people passing through town were the best customers. With a high quality of history, culture, and charm, St. Augustine won.
Nailler moved there in 1988 and leased a storefront on San Marco Avenue, the main road from the north into the Old Town. Wolf’s Head Books was at that location for 17 years before moving the store across the street.
Wolf’s Head Books staff today: (L-R) Michael Theeke, owner Barbara Nailler today
In 1995, Wolf retired after 21 years of teaching and joined Nailler in St. Augustine. 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.
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.
In addition, many older and previously scarce books are now available in print-on-demand paperback or hardback formats. Adding to the pressure, some major libraries are purportedly scanning millions of books into a worldwide database.
With e-books and CDs also available, pressures on indie bookstores are enormous. Many are closing their brick-and-mortar operations in favor of online sales and appointment-only ventures.
Nailler reflects wistfully on her bookstore days, saying that, “It’s been my life, my favorite career.”
Although she sometimes wakes up in the morning in mourning, she “has no regrets” since she made the decision to close her store. But as with so many other indie bookstore owners, if it were still possible to make a living at it, she would continue.
“I’ve already worked way past retirement age,” Nailler admits. “But I want to go out with grace, like a genteel bookworm!”
A gigantic sale is now going on at the store. Sale prices are only through direct in-store sales, by e-mail (email@example.com), or by phone at 904-824-9357.
Store hours are 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturdays, and 12 p.m.-5 p.m. Sundays. Wolf’s Head Books is located at 67-B San Marco Avenue in St. Augustine. You can visit the store’s website here.
By: Adam Rousso/Sunshine Slate
Images: Wolf’s Head Books
Wolf’s Head Books