Bookworms Inch Toward Midtown

New bookseller embraces sense of community

Bruce Palmer

Sally Bradshaw and Jeff Hipsher sit on the newly painted stairs of their community hub and book haven.

Their coffees untouched, a book between them and deep in conversation, these two are surely the folks I came to meet. She is perfectly coifed and thoroughly Southern from her matching accessories to the charming smile. He is hip without being overly so, wears glasses of a certain sort and is comfortably clad in a T-shirt adorned with the face of a familiar rap artist. She was once into politics, having served as a senior advisor to Gov. Jeb Bush. He’s a poet. Her coffee is hot. His coffee is iced. And, despite this curious juxtaposition, the pair is combining to operate a bookstore, the Midtown Reader. 

It was likely that Sally Bradshaw and Jeff Hipsher would cross paths in a neighborhood coffee shop and exchange a pleasant hello — their haunts were proximate — but it was their love of books that ensured that their paths would merge. 

“It was never in my career path,” said Bradshaw. “I got into the political world, but always in the back of my mind hoped I would open a bookstore. I had a lot of frustration on the campaign trail seeing the lack of dialogue between people, the downturn in critical thinking and the inability of people to solve basic problems because the country has become polarized. I think this store has become part of my personal rage against the machine, but more than that it is to provide a venue where people can read and think and share.”

Hipsher, on the other hand, knew from childhood days of picture books that his life and career would involve literature. He sorted books for a retailer and spent long hours with his nose buried in anthologies while pursuing his master’s degree in poetry from Florida State University. Through the English Department, he sought out Bradshaw and they met for a conversation.  

“I bugged her until she hired me,” joked Hipsher. “We wanted the same things, for Midtown Reader to foster empathy, learning and tolerance. To allow you not only to meet the books, but meet people. To become a community hub.” 

A hub it is proving to be amid the bustle that Midtown has become. And, if its central location were not enough, the bookstore plans to attract people via appearances by authors, speakers and community notables. 

The store’s shelves are stocked with mysteries and cookbooks and books of poetry, the kind that rhymes and freer verse. Special emphases are placed on Florida authors and children’s literature. 

“I remember my parents taking us into the bookstore and letting us roam,” said Bradshaw. “We picked out books, smelled books and read the book jackets. It’s a very nostalgic thing for me because it shaped me as a child. My parents would not deny us a book. I didn’t always get the latest Barbie doll, but I always got a book if I asked.” 

A love of books does not rely on a substantial financial return on investment. Midtown Reader is not about the almighty dollar but instead strives to cultivate a space and a vibe that invites people for whom books serve as companions. It invites others seeking to evoke memories, for beginning readers for whom many words are strangers and all who value community.

Works of Florida Writers You Should Have On Your Bookshelf

  • “Perfume River” by Robert Olen Butler
  • “Further Problems with Pleasure” by Sandra Simonds 
  • “Driving the King”by Ravi Howard 
  • “Out of the World” by Kristine Snodgrass
  • “Sisters of the Revolution,” edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer
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