By Bruce Collier
Sundog Books at Seaside is owned and operated Linda and Bob White. Mississippi natives, they moved here for the same reason everyone else did— the beaches—finding a home in the Grayton Beach area in 1983. Linda recently took time to talk with Beachcomber.
Originally, says Linda, they planned to open a restaurant, then decided against that and in favor of opening a bookstore. The first was in Miramar Beach/Sandestin. Their friend Robert Davis asked them to open a store in Seaside, a sleepy beach community that was showing signs of growth. This was in 1986.
Sundog Books was in several Seaside locations before landing in its current home at 89 Central Square, the heart of Seaside’s thriving New Urbanist landscape. The store occupies the first floor of a white pillared, Old Florida style building, with a wide front porch on which chairs are placed for the comfort of readers Originally open only from Memorial Day through Labor Day, they now do business daily from 9 AM to 9 PM, closed only on Thanksgiving and Christmas Day.
“We both just love books,” says Linda. “We wanted to do something we enjoyed.”
Their choice of the Emerald Coast’s preeminent beachside community as a store location was not random, either. “Beaches and reading go hand in hand,” says Linda. “Seaside is ideal—it’s a walking town. People stop by, and many buy books.”
The existence of a standalone, non-chain bookstore stocked with both softcover and hardcover books is something of an anomaly in these times of one-click online ordering and instant book downloads. The Whites acknowledge this, but Linda points out that there are some benefits to the old fashioned brick and mortar bookstore.
Bob White keeps current on the publishing business, follows the national book reviews (The New York Times and others.) and meets with publishers. The Sundog staff is made up of committed book-lovers, serious readers who can advise customers and make informed recommendations. “They (the browsers) are here on vacation,” says Linda. “They have more time to browse.” They “pick and choose” the stock, but Sundog can special-order books within one to two days.
Ninety-eight percent of business comes from walk-ins—women aged 40-plus predominate, and young people—but Sundog strives to maintain an online presence. The website (Sundogbooks.com) offers online searching and a line of Sundog Books Gear (caps, mugs, t-shirts, sweatshirts, tank tops and kids’ gear), and posts notices of author book signings, book club meetings, and other literary-related events. There are two active book clubs at present, meeting morning and evening once a month.
A walk around the store indicates maximum use of space. There are tall shelves, tables and free-standing racks, with books grouped by subject, including Florida and Gulf Coast-themed books, and an impressive section devoted to kids’ books. There are also calendars, cards, wrapping paper, and seasonal items.
Anyone used to shopping for books online should pay the store a visit. The placement of merchandise and low-key, library-like tranquility facilitates and encourages browsing. Linda refers to the layout of the design as “a group effort.”
Though not seen at the time of the interview, the tradition of a canine namesake for the store continues. The current title-holder (Sundog the Fourth, better known as Glover) is an Australian Blue Heeler Cattle Dog. “Sundog” refers to a phenomenon of patches of light appearing beside the sun (“dogging” it), that is referenced in the film The Deer Hunter. The store’s logo was designed by an artist friend of the Whites, who incorporated an image based on dogs depicted in ancient Egyptian art.
Sundog Books is located at 89 Central Square in Seaside. The phone number is 850-231-5481.