As a person matures, polite society expects that person to age gracefully, to slow down and do age-appropriate activities: play shuffleboard, knit, go to dinner at 4 p.m., sit in a park and play chess. Jacksonville’s own literary benefactor, Ron Chamblin, quite obviously eschews that expectation–he turns 75 on Wednesday, April 26 and there’s not even a hint of an indication that he’s slowing down in any way, shape or form.
Ron Chamblin is, of course, the owner and the calm, assured strength behind the joy that is Chamblin BookMine and Chamblin’s Uptown, bookstores so full of, well, books, a “quick trip” to either site (Roosevelt Boulevard and Laura Street, respectively) is impossible. Since opening for business 1976 with 15 boxes of books salvaged from a fire, the books have been stacked on the floors, in boxes, on countertops, just everywhere. And on the shelves, they’re not in any boring Dewey Decimal order, but by subject or author or, as in the case of some history categories, by certain wars or decades. This seemingly random organization is much more interesting than the stodgy 19th-century method public libraries use.
And the thousands of folks who frequent Chamblin’s stores must agree; every time I go to either one, it’s slam full of book-lovers, looking for a certain tome or just browsing, most unaware of the force behind the ordered chaos. Ron sells–and buys–books, mostly gently used, but he also donates books. A treasured, rather salty, member of his staff estimates that he’s given more than 750,000 books to Duval County schools over the years, and bestowed $150,000 to the literary endeavors of the University of North Florida, along with curriculum sets for new teachers.
Among the many amenities at the new Sulzbacher Village community for women and families opening soon on the Northside, there will be a library full of books donated by Chamblin. Community is important to him, but nothing takes priority over the books and his operation. Concerning the wide popularity of the thriving bookstores, Chamblin sums it up: “I really think our success is due to one single fact, which has to do with the unique quality of my personality.” Sarcasm aside, Ron Chamblin is successful, and we here at Folio Weekly wish him a happy 75th birthday, and many happy returns of the day, for years to come.