Independent bookstore Third House Books reopens after pandemic shutdown

Masks are mandatory at Third House Books. This is not an order that Heather Halak takes lightly.

In fact, she will refuse customers if they don’t have one.

“Good riddance, she said. “Aren’t these the people I want to buy from my store – people trying to kill me?”

Halak, 28, is the only staff member at Third House Books, which held its grand reopening on Saturday. The bookstore closed in March 2020 after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, just three months after moving to 400 NW 10th Ave. About 20 people walked in and out of the store on Saturday afternoon.

Third House Books had been open for more than three years before closing in March.

Halak is immunocompromised. In 2020, she made the difficult decision to close, she said. But the store did not close without controversy.

“The door would be locked, and people would be pulling on the handles and shouting outside,” she said. “I wasn’t selling insulin, it’s books.”

Since the move, several changes have been made to the interior and content of the Third House books. In addition to revamping the ’80s-style space, Halak said, the store now offers T-shirts, more young adult novels and puzzles.

But what hasn’t changed are the shelves in the Third House featuring local authors.

When the store opens, Florida writers — especially UF faculty and graduates — are encouraged to submit their work. Headlines from Miami and Gainesville residents were featured on Saturday.

“Unfortunately, much of what is featured is independently published through Amazon, where things are unedited, the book design is crude, or it’s something that’s definitely not in the interest of customers,” Halak said.

Halak, along with other booksellers across the country, also has an aversion to buying titles on Amazon because of the company’s practices. Amazon prices its books cheaper, which means authors and publishers are paid less than they should, she said.

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“It doesn’t give people real jobs,” she said. “You only make Bezos richer. Congratulation.”

Still, depending on the circumstances, Halak said, she wouldn’t judge consumers for buying books on Amazon. For example, not everyone has access to independent bookstores.

Jessie Gorey, a 24-year-old software engineer, said she had just moved down the street from Third House Books. But being from South Florida, her only choice was to shop at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

“I’m really happy to have the chance to engage with this content,” she said. “I’m just looking to see what captures my interest, which is everything.”

Independent bookstores cater to select likes, a practice Amazon is unable to participate in, Halak said. But she has noticed that some customers participate in showrooming or take photos of the books in store and then buy them on Amazon.

“I’m quite in love with the local flavor,” Gorey said. “I see they have a lot of zines there that you wouldn’t really find at Barnes and Noble.”

Third House Books is hosting a double book launch for Florida authors Ryan Rivas and Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya on October 14 at the Civic Media Center. As usual, masks are mandatory.

“I went through two years of absolute hell as an immunocompromised person,” Halak said. “I will absolutely judge someone who refuses to read the latest updates about COVID, then weaponizes their ignorance so people get sick and hurt them.”

Contact Lauren at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @LaurenBrensel

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Lauren Brensel

Lauren Brensel is a sophomore journalism major and writer for The Avenue. She is also a staff writer for Her Campus UFL and The GEN-ZiNE. In her spare time, she can often be found creating Spotify playlists and reminding those around her that she made this song on Glee.

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