That plucky little bookworm has slithered into oblivion, no longer beckoning book lovers into the tiny paperback repository on Oak Street in downtown Conway.
The place has been owned by a woman whose passion for books was overpowering, so much so that she bought the bookstore and began reading everything in sight.
A considerable chore, of course, but if one is committed to a concept it becomes a way of life. And so it was for Betty Roebuck who read and read ‘til she was on the verge of collapse.
Roebuck owned the "Bookworm" on Oak Street for more than 37 years — a nondescript, tiny store near the railroad tracks that bisect the city. She dispensed books in a peculiar fashion, selling them at half price and trading for them if they were returned. She liked the concept and so did her readers.
But alas, the end comes even to book stores, and Roebuck elected to end her strange dynasty — some called it a refuge for paper backs — with nary a hardcover intruding in the jam-packed shelves. She turned over her inventory to the thrift shop at St. Joseph Church which welcomed the largess.
After senior students at the Catholic school loaded scads of paperbacks into several truck loads, Roebuck shed nary a tear; she was ready to retire.
The other day, she was asked about life away from that dingy store. "You know, I haven’t read a book since I left the store. I used to read two or more books a day. But I’m happy in retirement. I’m just going to be lazy. Play cards at the senior citizens center and things like that. Oh yes, and have coffee with my women friends at Ed’s Bakery. I’m 83 and I think I deserve it."
Curiously, this bookworm was disinterested in making money, even though she admits that it was virtually impossible to show a profit at day’s end. "Money wasn’t the idea; I’ve always liked books and I liked to read. And running the store gave me something to do," she allows. "And it was becoming hard to make the rent."
A plate glass window at the front of the store was emblazoned with a slithering "bookworm" that gave notice to the genre of the place where one came upon Roebuck stationed behind a structure that might be called a desk, if one were to be so kind.
A "cash register" was employed when rare currency showed its face. It was an old metal box. She did her bookkeeping on the face of a battered calendar.
Roebuck showed little concern for amenities, Her strengths lay in her recall of the titles of the scads of books that almost strangled the shelves. At every turn there were paperbacks
A customer was inclined to say: "The place was illuminated by the bright colors of the books and nothing else."
But the owner was on top of things: "Titles of men writers were there; women writers there, and a mixture over there," she once explained to a visitor. See those dolls and other things on top of the shelves? They’re gifts from some of my customers."
It’s been said she smiles when she contemplates the gifts and shakes her head in pleasant disbelief.
Roebuck bought the store that was owned by a student at the University of Central Arkansas. She said she paid $2,000 for the place, but she’s not sure. She has no earthly idea about the value, if any, of the store. Never did an inventory; it wasn’t important, she said.
Thieves never intruded on the place. "There was nothing to take," she said.