In DeLand, Florida’s bustling historic downtown, The Muse Bookshop invites readers to browse an irresistible children’s section, new best sellers, used and antiquarian books, topographical maps, “Floridiana,” gifts, and more.
Seated at the heart of the shop is its unstoppable founder – educator and community champion Janet Bollum, who co-founded The Muse 42 years ago, on July 1, 1980. Bollum’s business has continued to thrive despite devastating recessions, changes in her personal life, and a global pandemic. On a recent Saturday, customers bustled in and out of the shop as they paraded along DeLand’s humming downtown shopping area.
Bollum has played a key role in advancing her city’s downtown business district, ever since the area was established in 1985. “I have a vested interest in the viability of the downtown district,” she explains. “I’m on the MainStreet DeLand Association board. I live in DeLand, own a business in DeLand. I promote literacy in that, if people come in and they’re looking for something, I have the ability to point them in the right direction.”
She considers that level of service – and literary insight – as her primary selling point, compared to chain stores. “I can help my customers navigate my collection,” says Bollum, an enthusiastic bibliophile. “If I don’t have it, I can get it for you.”
From a visitor’s perspective, Bollum’s other primary selling point is her infectious passion for books and her steadfast commitment to community-building. As an example, following the police killing of George Floyd in 2020, Janet and her daughter Ella Ran live-streamed weekly readings of children’s books on race and diversity. Readings in that series included books such as Something Happened in Our Town: A Child’s Story About Racial Injustice.
“Give a kid a love for books and they’ll be entertained for life,” Bollum says, noting that her nine-year-old granddaughter loves graphic novels such as Wings of Fire and Artemis Fowl.
Bollum’s preferred genre is historical fiction. She reads to escape, and for entertainment, but she also reads a bit of everything, including all of the offerings in her bookshop’s “Florida Room.” There, contemporary literary fiction by Connie May Fowler and Carl Hiaasen’s humorous thrillers coexist with antique copies of Robert Wilder’s Flamingo Road and Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s Cross Creek.
Born in Minnesota, Janet Lynn Bollum earned a mathematics degree from Moorhead State College, taught high school in Australia for a couple of years, then returned to the United States, where she became involved in adult education. That experience got her more interested in promoting literacy.
In 1979, she and her then-husband, the late Keith Charles Bollum, followed her parents to Florida, where he worked at a bookstore in St. Augustine. In 1980, they bought a business called McVicker’s Books, Cards, and Gifts, which was located a block north of her current store in DeLand. The Bollums had two children, Justin and Ella, before divorcing in 1989.
Still, The Muse Bookshop persisted.
Janet Bollum became increasingly involved in civic life, serving as a City of DeLand commissioner; as chair of the Volusia County Metropolitan Planning Organization; as a representative of the Volusia Council of Governments; and on the advising committee of the Metropolitan Planning Organization. She remains active in the Democratic Party, and she helps citizens register to vote.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Bollum says, The Muse closed for a couple of months, then began reopening gradually. She was able to secure grants from the county that helped her survive. All along the DeLand business district, she says, landlords temporarily reduced rents to help keep their tenants from going under. With very few exceptions, most of DeLand’s downtown businesses are small and privately owned, she notes. By working together, the community got through those dark days, and it has now bounced back stronger than ever, Bollum reports.
Bollum received the Woman of the Year Award from the DeLand Downtown Business and Professional Organization in 1996. She has been listed as a noteworthy Retail Book Store Owner and Educator by Marquis Who’s Who.
These days, her brother Brian helps out at the shop, as needed. At the back of The Muse Bookshop, daughter Ella Ran co-owns Outsiders, a retail store for outdoor adventurers.
Visit The Muse Bookshop at 112 S. Woodland Avenue, DeLand, Florida 32720. DeLand’s award-winning downtown district also features an art museum, eclectic craft and gift stores, restaurants, a brewery, and much more. If you’re in Central Florida, it’s a destination well worth touring, especially if you have a chance to meet and be inspired by Janet Bollum.
Ginger Pinholster’s second novel, Snakes of St. Augustine, is forthcoming on September 12, 2023 from Regal House Publishing. Her first novel, City in a Forest, won a Gold 2020 Royal Palm Literary Award from the Florida Writer’s Association. She works for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and lives in Ponce Inlet, Florida, where she volunteers with the Volusia-Flagler Turtle Patrol.