What’s in a Name?: Tombolo Books

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Alsace Walentine, former author events coordinator at Asheville, North Carolina’s Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café, explains why she chose the name “Tombolo Books” for the new bookstore she plans to open later this year or early next year in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Alsace Walentine writes:

In the first two installments of this saga, in November 2015 and April 2016, I discussed laying the foundations of my business plan, performing market analysis, and exploring new social media platforms. The next step was to decide on an ideal name for the new venture.

My partner and I began by thinking of our favorite bookstores and bookstore names and loosely categorizing them. There were the literary names (Literati Bookstore in Ann Arbor, Michigan; Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill, North Carolina; etc.), the location-specific names (Bookshop Santa Cruz in California; The Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle), and the personal names (McNally Jackson in New York City; Nicola’s Books in Ann Arbor). We also considered local themes and inspirations (e.g., Florida, St. Petersburg, Pinellas County, the Gulf), local literary history (Jack Kerouac called St. Pete home), as well as our own personal history and symbolism. Having moved here from Asheville, North Carolina, could we possibly bring mountain culture with us to Florida? Would it resonate here? Nope; that wasn’t going to work.

In the end, in searching through Gulf Coast features, vocabulary, and meanings, we stumbled upon the English-appropriated Italian word tombolo (pronounced “tom-buh-loh”), which means “a sandbar connecting an island to the mainland.” This fit nicely into a fourth category of name type: a word with strong symbolic meaning that stands on its own, with visual appeal and phonetic ease, and which is a joy to say aloud. We had finally found a name that suited us: Tombolo Books!”

Like a tombolo in the sea, our store will be all about fostering connections. We will connect readers to books, authors, characters, and other book lovers. The tombolo metaphor also symbolizes the journey that the sandbar invites, with its challenges, thrills, and potential for discovery, even transformation, not unlike the consequences of delving into a good book, whether it is fiction or nonfiction.

Our store concept is an events-driven general bookstore, stocking new books — hard-to-find small and independent press books alongside mainstream books and classics — and employing a staff of friendly, hardworking bibliophiles trained in the art of listening and matching books to customers.

Walentine used the 1873 painting "Surf Waves" by Fyodor Vasilyev to design an image that illustrates her store's concept.

As one of Ruth Ozeki’s characters proclaimed in the book My Year of Meats, “Name is face to all the world.”  Similarly, the success of any retail enterprise is largely dependent on its branding strategy. Branding is much more than just the sum of logos, bookmarks, and social media. It is expressed through every aspect of a business, from the physical attributes of the store environment to the way people answer the phones. Our mission is to be an intelligent, friendly, and reliable source of literary discovery and connection, in the form of excellent books, unique events, and stellar service. We think of our brand as a commitment to our customers and a pillar of our business.

Conventional wisdom says that a name must be clear and understandable so that people know what you’re selling. In this regard, we are taking somewhat of a risk in calling our store Tombolo Books, but we feel that the name, being unfamiliar, inherently offers an invitation to engage and discover. We love the way that Tombolo Books sparks curiosity and spurs the imagination even before you enter its doors. It is a risk that thrills us.