Baseball is what first brought Paul Seitz to Alabama. In fact, he owns a special piece of Birmingham’s baseball history.
A native of Ohio, he was a pitcher for Ohio State University before coming down South to play professionally. In the early 1960s, he moved to Birmingham to pitch for the Barons, and Seitz was the starting pitcher on Opening Day 1964 – the first integrated ballgame in the team’s history.
The next year, he was promoted to play AAA in Vancouver with the Mounties. But in 1968, Alabama came calling again, and Seitz returned to Rickwood Field to play for the Birmingham A’s. By 1969, he was ready to retire from the game. He was 28 at the time and began looking for his next changeup.
While browsing through a local newspaper, a small advertisement caught his attention – an opportunity to buy a franchise of a store called Little Professor Book Center.
Thanks to the franchise’s popularity in his home state of Ohio, Seitz was familiar with the store. To him, that sounded like a good plan, and he never looked back.
In 1973, he officially opened Little Professor Book Center in downtown Homewood, in “The Curve” on 18th Street South. He spent more than 20 years at that location before moving down the street, remaining in that location until last year, when the developer sold the space.
Now, he’s moved back to the heart of Homewood, directly across the street from his original location. Since the recent move, he’s enjoyed seeing his longtime customers return, as well many new faces that have found their way through the doors.
“We get customers from as far as 50 miles away. They are book lovers, and they are what have made us be able to survive for this long period of time,” Seitz said. “We offer a good inventory and excellent book people, but what makes us successful is our readers.”
Children make up a big portion of his readership. Whether it’s required reading or for enjoyment, Seitz gives those children a lot of credit toward his business’ survival.
“In 1973, my first two customers were high schoolers. In the past 45 years, we have dealt with hundreds of schools and their students. Without those schools, we wouldn’t be here today,” he said.
Little Professor Book Center in Homewood is Birmingham’s oldest independent bookstore; independent now since the Little Professor franchise sold out in 1998. Seitz’s store is one of only three Little Professors left in the United States that are carrying on the name. With frequent events in the store, like book signings and meet-the-author nights, its popularity is holding strong, despite ever-present competition from online sellers and chain bookstores. From new releases to timeless classics, best-sellers to would-be hits, the store’s selection and employee expertise sets it apart.
“In our 45 years in business, I’ve had some of the most amazing, wonderful employees. Doctors, judges, a soprano singer, playwrights and now we have a full-fledged author on our staff. He just signed a three-book contract with Macmillan,” said Seitz.
While Seitz has slowed down in the past few years, he’s not closing the book on working in his business anytime soon.
“What’s great about having a bookstore is you never have any complaints,” Seitz said with a big smile.
“When people get a car fixed, they grimace when they hand over that money. When people buy a book, they’re always smiling. They say, ‘Thank you very much!’ So, it’s been an easy, easy job.”
Little Professor Book Center at 2844 18th St. S. in Homewood is open seven days a week – 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Visit online at littleprofessorhomewood.com.
Follow Little Professor on Facebook.
This story originally appeared in the Alabama Retail Association‘s Alabama Retailer magazine.
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)