When you own a small business it has to be a labor of love — especially if your competitor is Amazon and major chain stores such as Barnes & Noble.
From Pensacola to Destin, independently owned bookstores are rare. However, in Walton County, you can find not one, but two that make buying books a special treat.
Sundog Books is one of Seaside's oldest businesses. After a chance meeting with the community's founder Robert Davis, store owners Bob and Linda White opened the book store in 1986.
"We were thrilled," said Linda. "We had always wanted to have a bookstore."
The husband and wife team are avid readers, as is their staff of about 10. Bob alone reads three books, on average, a week. Inside the store, shelves are packed with books. Some stacks are even spread out on the floor. Curated staff picks aren't just a book or two, but feature several choices. And those guilty pleasure beach reads are part of the mix too.
"We just wanted to have an eclectic selection of classics, new fiction, children's books and something to read at the beach," Linda said.
The staff pays close attention to best sellers and book reviews to keep inventory relevant.
"We receive a shipment of books and place orders everyday," Linda said. "Some days we'll receive as many as 30 boxes of books."
In business for 27 years, 15 of which have been in their current location in the heart of Seaside, the Whites have sustained business even though competitors, Books A Million and Barnes & Noble, are not too far away. Even with the rise of Amazon and e-books, Sundog Books is doing better than ever, Linda said.
"We have a great location and great clientele who buy books while also having Kindles," Linda said. "We're better than ever."
The biggest obstacle that Sundog has faced is weather.
"The roughest years were during hurricanes and the BP oil spill," Linda told the Sun.
When Sundog originally opened, the store's business hours were only during the seasonal boom in spring and summer. Now, the store is open seven days a week all year long with the exception of Thanksgiving and Christmas. The store even stays open on New Year's Eve.
"We can actually make money throughout the entire year," Linda said with laugh. "It's all because of how 30A has grown."
Sundog is a supporter of authors — both local and up-and-coming — with regular book signings on the store's front porch. The store also hosts monthly book clubs and a weekly children's story time. Summer reading lists from around the country are posted in the store so visiting families can stock up. Engaging with customers and the community is one of the joys of the book store business, Linda said.
On Rosemary Beach, The Hidden Lantern is a part of the same independent book store crusade while offering a different perspective. Like Sundog, the store is owned by family and dogs often play mascot for the stores. In fact, most days you can visit with Rhodie, a retired therapy dog, at Hidden Lantern.
Mom and daughter, Diane and Lauren Carvalho spent family vacations along 30A before moving to Rosemary Beach six years ago. They frequently visited Sundog and credit the store for motivating their small business aspirations.
There isn't any competition between the two stores. When a customer needs a book that's not in stock, either Sundog Books or Hidden Lantern is happy to send customers to the fellow independent store.
"We have a good relationship," said Diane of Sundog. "We're far enough apart that we don't compete. It's nice to have another bookstore to send customers to."
Located next to Amavida Coffee, the store's name and some of its decor is derived from "The Chronicles of Narnia" series, one of Lauren's favorite books.
While Sundog was opened before the rise of e-books, Diane and Lauren opened the doors of the Hidden Lantern two years ago, while Amazon and ebooks were going through rapid growth spurts.
"There's nothing like instant gratification if you need a book right away," explained Lauren.
Even though the e-book accounted for 22.5 percent of overall revenue in 2012, up from 16.98 percent in 2011, according to Afterdawn.com, for Diane, there's no comparison between purchasing an electronic book versus the real deal.
"The price of a movie ticket is so much and yet in two hours, it's over," Diane added. "You can spend days with a book, it looks good on your shelves and expresses your tastes. And then, you can go back and read it all over again."
Plus, Diane adds, you don't want to take expensive electronic devices to the pool.
The staff of five enjoys different genres of books, which lends to what gets shelved. With her background in sculpture and painting from her degree at Dallas Baptist University, Lauren brought her skills to the bookstore and opened a gallery, which adds to the distinction of Hidden Lantern from other stores.
"The gallery and bookstore compliment each other and hosts a lot of community events," Diane said.
Those events include gallery openings and art workshops for both children and adults. The bookstore plays host to other events such as bible study, author signings and children's story time with Seaside Repertory Theatre.
Both bookstores go above and beyond in terms of customer service by special ordering books. Hidden Lantern will even take requests via email for incoming visitors so that they'll be ready upon arrival.
"We don't get the big discounts," Diane said. "But when you go to a small bookstore you have a curated selection and an overall good experience."
"There's not a lot of profit in books, they come priced," Linda adds. "We're never going to be really wealthy off of it, but we love to do it."
Visit The Hidden Lantern at 84 N. Barrett Square, Rosemary Beach. You can contact the store at www.TheHiddenLantern.com. In Seaside, visit Sundog Books at 89 Central Square. You can contact the store at www.sundogbooks.com.