The haunted old Tampa book company
If you take a stroll through downtown Tampa, you’re more than likely pass to by the remains of the Old Tampa Book Company. You’re also just as likely to miss it, as the shop has been closed to the public for years. Yet if local legend is to be believed, the shop may be home to more than just memories. According to reports, the now-defunct book store harbors the murderous entity of a mysterious top hat-wearing ghost. Think you’re brave enough for the spine-tingling history of the haunted Old Tampa Book Company? Read on, if you dare.
History and Background
Before it was a book company, the now-abandoned building was home to the Richard Bennett Tailor Shop, which served all of the city of Tampa’s tailoring and alteration needs throughout the 1980s.
But one day in early October of 1989, the owners of the tailor shop failed to show up for work. Customers were confused, maybe a little annoyed at having to wait another day to pick up their freshly altered clothing, but nothing more. A week passed. Then another. Customers were starting to get angry. By Halloween, it was clear that the owners of the Richard Benette Tailor Shop were never coming back, and that the citizens of Tampa would have to take up sewing themselves. Fortunately for them, not only were their various pairs of pants and prom dresses still inside the shop, but so were all of the sewing machines, tailoring equipment, and even cash registers. Everything inside was completely untouched. The shop owners had truly vanished without a trace.
As odd as the incident was, life went on. The building’s landlord quickly found new tenants in the form of David and Ellen Brown, a friendly New England couple with a penchant for rare and unique books. The two parties struck a deal in which the Browns agreed to clean out the space in exchange for three-month rent forgiveness. With the space cleaned, the Browns were free to move in their vast collection of books, and the Old Tampa Book Company was born.
The Browns enthusiastically rose to meet the challenge of running their own business. David Brown had been collecting books since childhood and had amassed an impressive collection of well over 4,000 unique titles. Meanwhile, Ellen Brown had worked as an art curator for over a decade. The two combined David’s diverse collection with Ellen’s curation experience to run a thriving, successful business. The Browns were also able to cut down on costs by repurposing the furniture left over from the tailor shop, cultivating the perfect cozy environment for patrons to browse through and read their new finds.
For the next 20 years, the Old Tampa Book Company remained a beloved fixture within the Tampa community as well as an aspirational model for family-owned businesses everywhere. Sadly, this changed when Ellen Brown’s health began to decline. Her condition prompted the Browns to sell the company and move back home to New England to be closer to their family.
Thankfully, this was not the end for the Old Tampa Book Company. Loyal employee Carrie Carnes promptly stepped up to the plate and took over in the Browns’ absence. Carnes had worked at the Book Company for five years managing the store’s online sales division, a position that allowed her to learn all the ins and outs of running a book store. With the help of her husband, Carnes purchased the store from the Browns and transitioned from manager to owner under their mentorship.
The shop soon turned out to be quite the undertaking. The shelves contained some 40,000 titles with an additional 20,000 more in storage. At the time Carnes took over, the store’s total inventory was valued at around $650,000. Putting her training to good use, Carnes brought the once quiet, cozy Tampa Book Company into the modern era. Carnes expanded the shop’s presence on social media, held daily sidewalk sales on the busy streets of Tampa, and hosted open mic events, author Q&As, and music nights at the shop.
For a while, business was booming. But in 2017, the Old Tampa Book Company let customers know via their Twitter account that they would be closing their doors due to an undisclosed maintenance issue. No further updates were released, and the shop remains closed to this day. Despite the lack of human activity going on inside the shop, locals and visitors of Tampa have reported plenty of activity of a more paranormal nature going on behind the glass.
According to one woman’s particularly frightening report, the ghost of a mysterious top-hat wearing ghost haunts the abandoned shell of the Old Tampa Book Company. The woman claims that while walking through downtown Tampa one night, she noticed something strange in the window of the shop.
Puzzled, the woman leaned in for a closer look. Behind the smudged, dusty glass of the dilapidated building stood the figure of a seven-foot-tall man wearing a dark suit and top hat. Assuming it must have been some kind of mannequin, the woman didn’t think much of it at first. Until the mannequin moved. What she thought was a lifeless plastic figure suddenly reached its pale white hand out toward her, its face fixed in an eerie smile. The woman shrieked and ran as far away from the shop as she could without looking back.
As unbelievable as her story may seem, this woman is far from the only passerby to report spotting the mysterious top-hat-wearing ghost. Tourists new to the area and long-term locals alike have often made similar reports of spotting a tall, well-dressed man watching them from the windows of the old book company. Whenever attempts are made to verify these reports, the man mysteriously vanishes without a trace.
Weirder still, back when the book company was still up and running, the previous owners reported a shocking discovery. One night, the shop’s alarm system suddenly went off in the middle of the night. But when the owners arrived on the scene, they discovered that although the window had been broken, nothing was missing from the shop. Even the cash register remained untouched. The only thing they noticed out of place was a pair of rusty old scissors lying in a pool of blood in the middle of the floor.
The owners chalked the incident up to a burglary attempt gone wrong, but that still didn’t explain why nothing was taken from the store. Who had stopped the thief? The case remains unsolved to this day, but the rumors continue to circulate. Some paranormal enthusiasts believe that the apparition of the tall man in the top hat serves as some sort of otherworldly guardian of the shop and its residents, who somehow scared the thieves away. Others believe that perhaps one of the thieves died in the struggle just outside the scene of the crime, and that the well-dressed phantom is actually the thief himself. The former theory seems the more likely, as a body was never found to corroborate the second.
The first theory is given even more credence by the fact that the Old Tampa Book Company’s previous owners recall sensing an unearthly presence inside the shop long before the incident occurred. According to Carrie Carnes, she never liked working inside the shop alone after hours, despite working there for years. She claims she always got an eerie feeling sitting among the stacks and stacks of old books, almost as if she could feel the presence of their owners’ pasts radiating from the pages.
Her mentor Ellen Brown shared a story with her just before departing that didn’t exactly abate these fears. According to Ellen, she never enjoyed working late either. She always had the strange feeling that someone was watching her, especially after hours. One night, Ellen worked late into the night completely reorganizing the entire store, only to return the next morning and find all of her hard work undone. I guess our ghost doesn’t appreciate the dewy decimal system, Ellen remarked to Carrie. Feeling thoroughly spooked by the incident, Carrie avoided further reorganization efforts at all costs.
Although the store is now abandoned, brave visitors are still encouraged to peek into its dusty windows and see if they can catch a glimpse of the mysterious top hat-wearing ghost of the Old Tampa Book Company.