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The Book Fair

KIM DAME Hernando Today correspondent
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 06:44 PM

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The Book Fair is a unique little store where you'll want to visit over and over again. Readers will find a selection of more than 25,000 books to satisfy their reading pleasure.

It's owner, Ruth Wharton has a charitable nature, driven by a heart of gold.

She was a nurse in Connecticut before coming to Florida in 1981. And that background in the medical industry grounded her passion for serving people.

"I was a nurse for many years," she said. "I graduated 50 years ago from the University of Connecticut."

When she decided to leave the medical profession to follow an entrepreneurial path, the foundation helped impel her decision to start a business that would utilize her people skills.

The brand new chapter of her life began with an empty retail space, homemade bookshelves she filled with diverse titles she'd found on her hunt for used books, and a persistence to make it work.

Twenty nine years later, she turns the page yet again, in celebration of a history so filled with poignant memories, she sometimes worries she won't remember them all.

"There were some really good times," Wharton said. "I wish I had written it all down."

Despite some struggle the first few years, Wharton transitioned nicely into her new role as business owner. Trial and error taught her lessons about flexibility, creativity, and integrity.

She had moved to Hernando County in 1981 and decided then to open her own business rather than get back into nursing. "I just knew a business like this was needed here," she said.

There was a used bookstore in Brooksville at the time but none in the Spring Hill area.

"It was something I could afford to do," she remembered. Having been affiliated with a small used book store in Connecticut, Wharton had some idea about the aesthetics. She was a regular patron, although she admitted she knew nothing about their system.

But she knew how to sell. "I was a manager for Tupperware," she said.

So Ruth and her husband set to work, building the bookshelves and filling them with a variety of titles. "It just must have been the right time," she remembered, "because I found people in the newspaper who wanted to sell me lots of books.

"Unfortunately I didn't know what I was doing at the time and got a lot of books I couldn't use."

They opened the store in a tiny retail space on Spring Hill Drive near Mariner in just under a month. Within a year she had outgrown the small space and moved the Book Fair to its present location.

That was 28 years ago!

In that time, the Book Fair has become more than a place to purchase quality used books. Many of Wharton's customers have been regular visitors, some from the beginning.

They come in to browse her ever changing selection, to order what she doesn't carry, or to trade books they have already read toward credit on future purchases.

"This helps them to make reading affordable," she said, "and they seemed to like the idea."

And Wharton got very good at deciphering what worked and what didn't in her store. Trends came and went and she added items based on what her customers wanted, and removed those they didn't.

Today, the Book Fair offers hundreds of titles, from newer releases in rentable hardcover to barely used paperback books. Fiction and nonfiction, including historical, romance, horror, drama, self-help, biographies, reference, and the list goes on.

She also offers fax and Notary Public services and sells trinkets and smaller gifts.

"I've tried a bunch of new things," Wharton said. "It's been a challenge over the years but it's been enjoyable. I've met a lot of nice people."

Ruth had predicted the outcome of her store with some degree of accuracy. She knew, deep down, that genuine interaction with her customers, and the ability to show them a caring heart, would bond her and her business.

And she was dead on.

"You get to know your customers," she said. Sometimes, if she hasn't seen one in a while, she starts worrying about what happened to them. "They become your friends."

Her empathetic nature, derived from the nurse who still lives inside her, has helped Wharton maintain her ability to interact on a more intimate level with her customers. Sometimes they need a gentle, listening ear, a friendly hug, or a tender nudge of encouragement.

They tell her about the loss of a spouse or a pet or some other heart-felt issue they are dealing with. "It's like an information center," Wharton said. "And I have broad shoulders to lean on. It's become very personal."

Wharton also recognizes, celebrates, and promotes more local talents and passions than she could ever effectively take credit for.

Scheduling a Local Authors Day once a year for the past four years has helped writers get the exposure they need in the community.

"They set up their own tables outside the store where they can sell their books and answer questions," she said. The authors also use it as a networking opportunity where other writers can get together and share their stories.

"It helps me and it helps them," Wharton said.

It is, in fact, her customers who keep her doors open for business each day.

The Book Fair is approaching its 29th anniversary celebration which is scheduled for Thursday, Friday, and Saturday during normal operating hours. The theme has molded into an appreciation effort for the customers.

"I like them to know how much they mean to me," Wharton said.

During the celebration, Wharton will be offering a drawing for gifts including gift cards to the store and a variety of other items. Customers who visit will be encouraged to put their names into the drawing, and the winners names will be pulled on Saturday.

"They won't need to be present to win," Wharton said.

The Book Fair has been a very important part of Wharton's life for more than a quarter of a century. And she is passionate about what she has accomplished in those years.

But she is coming to another crossroads in her life and selling the business isn't out of the question. "If someone were looking to buy it, I might consider selling," she said.

Because the next chapter of Wharton's life, she said, will be to retire.

The Book Fair is open Monday through Thursday from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.; Friday 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday from 9:30 to 3 p.m.

Name: The Book Fair

Address: 1219 Kass Circle, Spring Hill

Telephone: (352) 686-1682

Kim Dame is a correspondent for Hernando Today. She can be reached at

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