Pictured: Jeffrey Jacobus, associated with the bookstore for 44 years. 

Owner: Jeffrey Jacobus — once a truck driver, now oversees a beloved bookstore in one of the wealthiest towns in the country.

WHERE THE ELITE MEET, GREET AND READ

This south Florida bookshop, located in the resort island and town of Palm Beach, opened in 1977 and is 45 minutes north of Boca Raton and an hour and fifteen minutes north of Fort Lauderdale. 

Current owner Jeffrey Jacobus knows the local culture better than most. “I’ve been in the state since 1955,” he says. “Virginia, my late wife, was a Florida native and began managing the store six months after it opened. Prior to that, she was a book buyer for Broward Community College.”

At the time, the original owners, who owned a chain of 200 Canadian bookstores, had a condo in Palm Beach. The next closest store was in New York City. 

“Meanwhile,” Jeffrey recalls, “I was a truck driver, hauling concrete, fuel and packages for 27 years statewide.

“Virginia was so good at her job, she was the only manager in the chain allowed to do her own book buying. She was also the only one to go to American Booksellers Association conventions. We would schedule our vacations and go with her brother at our own expense.”

Her hard work and keen buyers’ eye paid off when in 1992, the couple got an offer to purchase the store. “I was on a road trip to Tampa and learned the manager was flying in from Canada for a dinner meeting in four hours,” says Jacobus, “That was the fastest return trip from Tampa I ever made. I showed up at the restaurant in work clothes with my tractor-trailer.”

Within two months, the store was theirs. Though there would be far greater challenges ahead than stocking the shelves with books that would sell.

SQUASHING THE COMPETITION

 “When Barnes and Noble came to West Palm Beach, the local media were sure we were doomed,” says Jeffrey. “We said we would prevail and continue our specialized customer service with book signings. We hand-pick books for our customers and offer free gift wrapping. We also help them pack and ship out-of-town gifts.”

Classic Bookshop’s customer service extends beyond the people in their hometown. “We are a dog-friendly store and keep treats on hand for our four-legged friends. Many days the customer is just walking by and the dog will turn toward the door or just sit down.” What a great way to drive walk-in business!

Now LA Fitness stands were Barnes and Noble (and its coffee shop) used to be. “We survived and thrived thanks to our special clientele. We are now seeing the third generation of families pass through our front door. It is a very special feeling to watch these families mature.”

LOCAL AUTHORS, OUTDOOR EVENTS AND A LASTING LEGACY

“We carry a section of local authors ranging from household names, such as James Patterson, to unknown, self-published authors,” says Jeffrey. “Our biggest challenge is being small (800 sq ft) and keeping the latest titles in stock.” 

Fortunately, the pandemic hasn’t broken the bookstore’s stride. “We hold events outdoors, in front of the store. Author and part-time resident Mary Simses promoted The Wedding Thief with slices of wedding cake and champagne.” (You can read BookTrib’s interview with Simses about the book here.) 

“We don’t compete on price with Amazon,” he adds. “But we have a large selection of autographed books which they do not have.”

What’s perhaps even more remarkable than the bookstore’s longevity is Jeffrey’s determination to keep the business going, even in his wife’s absence. “In early 2004, my wife was diagnosed with cancer,” he explains. “She passed that September as Hurricane Frances came ashore. She was in the hospital, which was powered by emergency generators.

“Virginia had advised me to sell the store and move on. But as I told Scott Eyman of the Palm Beach Post, ‘The bookstore was her legacy; she’d spent 27 years building it up, and I was just supposed to sell it and walk away? It didn’t feel right.’

“I decided to keep the store going with the same employees and our customers have stuck with us. There was no reason to move. It was the right decision.”


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