By: Alex Gatlin & Audrey Carpenter
Chamblin’s Bookmine of Jacksonville holds a treasure trove of stories, and not just those found inside the books.
Ron Chamblin started his bookstore nearly 42 years ago when he bought 15 boxes of used books from Cy Crawford. Crawford was also a local bookstore owner at the time, but he was getting old and in search of a heir.
“I would come by about twice a week. I lived several blocks away,” Chamblin said. “He wanted me to take over what was there and open up a regular retail which I did in July of ‘76.”
But it wasn’t as simple as that. According to Chamblin, some kids burned Crawford’s house in December of that year and it destroyed most of the books.
“I salvaged a few boxes, most of it smoked damage and opened up on Herschel St., not knowing what I was doing,” Chamblin said. “But I opened up and I was by myself for five years and it really kind of just grew. It surprised me sort of.”
Over the years Chamblin said that his business forced him to expand. Currently, he owns an estimated 3.5-4 million books, two warehouses, and two physical bookstore locations. In fact, his company’s growth is not stopping as he plans to add another 7,000 square feet and a cafe to the Roosevelt Blvd. store.
Chamblin, who actually lived amongst the books in his Roosevelt store for several years and still works seven days a week, attributes his continued success to his diversity of book titles.
“If you have a good selection of books, and if you’re selective and you don’t have a lot of junk, people like that,” Chamblin said. “I take any title that is reasonably exciting.”
While Chamblin is a workhorse, he is also a caretaker and his employees believe that is the reason for his success.
Jennifer O’Donnell started as a customer straightening up stacks of books, but when her children went off to school she needed a new job. She’s been working for Chamblin for 19 years since then and is currently the manager of the Uptown location.
“Most demanding boss I’ve ever had, but [the] best boss I’ve ever had,” O’Donnell said. “He’s loyal to his employees, he’s terrific, he’s gracious. He expects a lot from us and we are happy to do it because of his loyalty to us.”
O’Donnell said she plans to work for Chamblin for the rest of her life.
One of the company’s youngest employees, Sheldon White, is a high school student at Douglas Anderson. White also has great respect for Chamblin.
“He’s very intimidating. He’s a great man, though very understanding,” White said.
White said the Roosevelt store was a very important part of his childhood as he grew up.
“I was probably like five or eight, very young, and my dad and I would come here all the time to get our reading done,” White said. “I’m a huge Star Trek fan so going to Roosevelt and just kind of staying in the Star Trek section while my dad would browse the books was a great time.”
While the business will continue to see growth, just as Crawford did those many years ago, Chamblin is thinking of the future of his company and who will care for it when he passes.
“I want to perpetuate it so what I’m going to do is form an LLC and offer ownership to dedicated employees and have them gain ownership and be more dedicated and let that continue that way,” Chamblin said. “It’s not the kind of business you can easily sell.”
Chamblin believes that his employees who already know how to price book titles and manage the stores are the best ones to continue the business. It is another testament to his loyalty.
However, for O’Donnell, thinking of a future without Chamblin is not something she wishes to do.
“I think it’s a great idea. I think it’s generous of him. I don’t expect anything like that because I don’t want him to leave,” O’Donnell said. “He’s not only my boss, [but] he’s my best friend.”
“I know what he wants to do with the business and it’s great because there are some younger people here and it’s inspirational for them,” O’Donnell continued. “But me personally it’s something I really don’t like to reflect on because I’d lose my best friend but gain a bookstore.”