I came here with a friend on the back of the motorcycle during a poker run and I asked, ‘What town is this?’ He replied “Sanford.” I came back the very next day.
And that’s how Maya Books and Music was established in Sanford 15 years ago. It was created by the blonde-haired, headstrong Yvette Comeau, who came with the vision of a “big city experience in a small town.”
“My goal was always to provide a community-oriented bookstore where people came in and did not feel pressured to buy something, where they had the freedom to look around,” she said. She has more than 100,000 books in all subjects. What started as a small shop in the Bishop Block has evolved into a warehouse—every inch covered with paperbacks and hardcovers from women’s studies to science fiction to children’s books.
Comeau came here with 30 years of bookstore experience, including 17 years of managing one of the largest rare bookstores in the southeast, and a few thousand personal books and vinyl records to sell. She housed the products in five locations, expanding into what she now calls her favorite and best place.
She always wanted to be around books to escape from a difficult childhood, hoping to go into a bigger world beyond her own. She recalled a time in the late 1960’s when her father, while avoiding a traffic accident in Port Washington, New York, noticed a publishing house throwing away stacks of books.
“My father stopped, packed his big ‘60s Mercury with as many books as he could and drove 50 miles home with his car loaded,” Comeau said. “I unpacked and looked at every one of them. They were almost all history and I loved going through them. I thought I was in heaven when he brought those books home…and I knew right then I had to be in a world surrounded by books.”
If you’ve rarely walked the brick-stone pavement of Magnolia Square, chances are you have assumed the store’s namesake is the owner. But once you stroll through the sanctuary of a thousand stories, you come to know the store has been notable for pets. Customers who have sat in the comfortable chairs and couches would most likely share the space with a cat or dog. Maya the cat, namesake of the store, loved to sit on the edge of armrests and on customers’ laps while they read.
Comeau’s best friend and constant assistant of fourteen years was her dog Layla. With black fur and a silver snout, Layla was hard to miss sleeping on the floor when you walked in.
Both Maya and Layla have passed away within the last year. Comeau says the hardest part is that people still expect to see them when they walk in.
“Everything is the same, but my pets aren’t here. I now fill up my few spare minutes instead of interacting with the animals, playing with them, and I will try to pick up something to read to fill up that time. It’s a blessing and a curse.”
In addition to losing her best friends, she fought through the recession and the painful aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s death. She was a single mother in a business that was not easily profitable. Difficulties nearly pushed her to close the doors, but she persevered. She works every day of the week but enjoys every second of it.
“It still doesn’t bother me after all this time. That is what you call true passion. I love what I do. And I mean love,” she said. “I just want my store to be something really great and solid in this town because Sanford deserves what I have to offer. Every great community should have an interesting bookstore. I’m so proud to be that bookstore in this town. That’s what drives me to be the best for Sanford, my chosen community.”
Nikki is a writer/ photographer in Central Florida. Finding stories in her city is an adventure she lives for. She loves photographing people in their most natural element–laughing, crying, connecting with their world. Her work can resonate with anyone who wants to feel a spark of emotion. She resides in downtown Sanford with her pup, Cookie, and a cuddly fur family of felines.
Photo credit: Nikki Namdar