In the 1970s, Barbara Barone recalls, Brant's Used Books felt like paradise.
Originally housed in repurposed Army barracks at the corner of Bee Ridge Road and U.S. 41, the shop had rows of metal shelves teeming with books that spilled out onto creaky wooden floors. Light streamed through the windows and the warm air had the distinctive smell of old paper. Hired to sweep floors for $0.25 an hour, Barone spent most her time curled up on her favorite bench, her nose buried in a comic.
Brant's, the oldest bookstore in Sarasota, was built in 1956 by Glen and Marjorie Brant. Barone's father ran the lawnmower repair shop next door, so she grew up spenidng lots of time among the stacks. After Glen Brant died, Barone's mother, Mary—from whom Barone says she inherited her bookworm ways—took ownership of the bookstore. In 2002, Barone took over and has since shepherded the shop through three different moves, destruction from Hurricane Irma and the rise of Amazon shopping.
But more than 60 years after its inception, Barone ensures that Brant's still has its original charm. In addition to roughly a quarter of a million books covering nearly every surface of the store, Brant's is a wonderland of curiosities. Mixed among the shelves are a prop bowl of cereal, a ballerina's tutu, boxes of vintage ephemera, a large plush tiger and a top hat adorned with feathers. There's a large collection of antique books, signed editions, a complete set of Agatha Christie novels and a friendly shop dog named Max. Part of the appeal is not knowing what you'll find or who you'll bump into.
Through the decades, Barone came to think of the shop not only as a place of discovery but as a community center for creative minds from all backgrounds.
“I think that a bookstore creates a culture and a community of togetherness," she says. "They bring in people who question the world around them. It connects you with other people who want to learn and want to grow.”
Just as the shop was a haven for her in her youth, she wants to provide the same for future young generations: a safe space for all kinds of people to gather, share ideas, meet new friends or just curl up quietly in the corner with a book.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Barone had big plans to overhaul the shop to further provide a space for community gatherings. She had hoped for additional seating areas, a coffee bar and an outdoor patio for garden lounging. There were visions of poetry readings, book clubs, jazz nights and collaborations with local theater groups. However, months without foot traffic have led to a dramatic loss in revenue, and Barone has turned to new strategies. Recently, at the advice of her children, she started a GoFundMe account to help raise money to secure the shop's future.
Still, when thinking about the road ahead, Barone is filled with optimism. “This won't last forever,” she says. Along with other nearby businesses, such as the Bazaar on Apricot and Lime, she hopes that the “Limelight District” can be transformed into a cultural hub. She dreams of the day where you can stop into Brant's for a book and a coffee before wandering down to the Bazaar to browse locally crafted artisan wares and grab some fresh produce. She believes there's never a bad time to start creating the future you want to see.
Brant's doors are currently open to the public, though masks are required and time limits for shopping are implemented when the store is crowded. Curbside pick-up and shipping are also available. Brant's Used Books is located at 429 N. Lime Ave. (941) 365-3658