Saying goodbye to Third House Books

by Heather Halak, Owner, Third House Books

“I was a library kid,” is my short answer when I’m asked how I got into running a bookstore. In elementary school I checked out books so voraciously at Miami-Dade’s West Miami branch that I won their summer reading contest annually.

But the longer answer is, “By accident.” Third House Books wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for my tumultuous not-even-a-year in New York City, return to Gainesville, and ninth circle of hell relationship. But mostly, it wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Kiren Valjee, the founder, someone who’d become like family.

What Kiren built, only months before I loafed around to avoid being home during my breakup, immediately inspired me. I read several novels a week in undergrad earning my bachelor’s in English, but newly-minted into the workforce, it had been tough with an ever-looming New Music Tuesday (now Friday) at a major record label. It was years since I read or visited Wild Iris Books, a place I considered “goals,” run by the tenacious Erica Rodriguez Merrell, who would, years later, become a mentor and friend. 

Some nights, when I walk from Second Avenue to the Top, I fondly remember the teal colored walls at 113 N Main St., a space now empty. Those walls housed moments both difficult and joyous: there I became a business partner, an owner, a community member. Almost everyone in my life here, I know because of THB. It’s why I could never take full credit for this little bookstore — since its inception, it’s been larger than myself. It’s been you, the community of Gainesville, the larger book community across Florida and the rest of the country. “A town isn’t a town without a bookstore,” (Neil Gaiman) but after almost a decade, I can confirm a bookstore also cannot exist without its town (how lucky I am that mine is Gainesville!).

Now after doing this 6.5 years solo, it’s time for a new chapter (bu-dum-tss). However romanticized bookstore life is, it’s also difficult, emotional, grueling work: profit margins are small with inflation and wider issues in publishing; retail makes one subject to absolutely anything or anyone at any given time; business hours require consistency and missing life events to make sales. I gave my twenties to community and feel confident now passing the torch to brave local folks operating diverse third spaces in what’s now a near-totalitarian, theocratic, and restrictive Florida. After a constant battle between financial and physical wellbeing versus keeping a community space alive, it’s just no longer sustainable to run a brick and mortar and I’m ready to turn a new page (bu-dum-tss, again). But that doesn’t mean I’ll be gone entirely! It would take more than that to get rid of me. I’ll be doing pop-ups and events in fall and have some final events before closing.

Swing by on Independent Bookstore Day, April 27, 12-7pm for a Celebration of Life for Third House Books at 400 NW 10th Ave. We’re planning a funeral (putting the ‘fun’ in funeral), so feel free to bring a eulogy to share. Help me send my tween-age bookstore off with love and joy; this is a no mourning zone! May 4 will be our last day open.

If you’d like to alleviate some of the debt incurred in running the space, we’re posting a GoFundMe soon (Please don’t feel obligated to donate — your love and support will always be enough). Also, please stay in touch on social media! I’ll miss my regulars and I’d love it if you dropped a line sometimes.

I can’t thank Gainesville enough for what it’s given me, but I hope I did it some justice here at Third House. I love you, GNV. Con mucho cariño, H.

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