Since September 2012, Oxford Exchange has offered the residents of Tampa, Fla. a meticulously curated selection of food, home furnishings and books.
Oxford Exchange's 1,500-square-foot bookstore serves as the entrance to the approximately 26,000-square-foot complex, which contains a wide, open atrium, a restaurant, a tea shop, coffee shop and furniture boutique. The restaurant seats approximately 180 and its menu features simple meals with a focus on seasonal and local ingredients, while the boutique offers home furnishings and other decor. The bookstore stocks some 3,500 books--an eclectic assortment of contemporary and classic titles, with careful curation vital to the experience.
"They have an idiosyncratic shelving system that's very appealing," author Terese Svoboda commented. "The displays mix classic editions with contemporary, with an eye toward the exquisite. The selection is impeccable."
The shelving system defies the standard genre classifications used by most bookstores, with fiction, nonfiction, anthologies and more, mixed under thematic categories such as "Complicated Women," "Things Are Different in France" and "Swashbuckling."
"We planned to editorialize from the beginning," explained Alison Powell, director of Oxford Exchange's bookstore. "I was a magazine editor and writer for a long time, and I planned to lay out the store like sections of a newspaper or magazine."
Many of the popular categories, such as "Co-Existing" and "Solace," are permanent fixtures, while others come and go. When Powell found herself with a huge number of David Foster Wallace books on her hands, she created a separate category for the late author's books, entitled "God There's a Lot of David Foster Wallace."
"I liked the idea of everyone being forced to look at everything--people can't just brush past history or romance or short stories," said Powell. "People who may not usually like short stories may discover someone they really like, such as Raymond Carver or Chekhov, if what those authors write about is presented thematically."
Oxford Exchange is across the street from the University of Tampa in the city's downtown, and the bookstore caters in part to the college community. The bookstore hosts author events and q&a sessions in conjunction with the university's MFA program, and stocks a high number of classics. The classics, according to Powell, make up as much as 50% of the bookstore's sales.
Oxford Exchange is in a building nearly a century old, blending vintage and modern decor with 1915 architecture. Owner Blake Casper, who also owns more than 50 McDonald's franchises in the Tampa area, bought the property in 2011 and transformed it into the Oxford Exchange over the next year and a half. Its rich design and multi-use spaces were inspired in part by old-fashioned clubs, shops and other locales in London that he has visited, many during his time as a student at the London School of Economics. Those models include the Wolseley restaurant, the Shaw Library at the London School of Economics and the Garrick Club, among others--and it's no surprise then that afternoon tea is served daily.
"If what we're really offering to people in the age of e-readers is a browsing experience and the pleasure of books as objects," said Powell, "then I'm going to focus my buying on things that are wonderful and that customers just want to own, or things that most bookstores won't carry." --Alex Mutter
Oxford Exchange is located at 420 West Kennedy Boulevard, Tampa, Fla. 33606; 813-253-0222; oxfordexchange.com.