It's been 30 years since the independent bookstore, Books & Books, first opened its doors in Coral Gables, and this week, they're celebrating.
Today there are stores throughout the region and beyond. There are three South Florida stores, as well as outposts at the Miami International Airport and the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, and stores in Grand Cayman and Westhampton Beach, New York, too.
Books & Books has withstood the rise of Amazon and eBooks, as well as the collapse of many other independent booksellers, to become one of the most well-known and respected bookstores in the country.
Miami Beach native Mitchell Kaplan is the founder of Books & Books and the co-founder of the Miami Book Fair International. He's considered something of a hero in the literary community, and he's got a National Book Award to prove it. Last year, the prestigious awards honored him for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community.
A Strong Community Focus
Kaplan attributes the store's longevity to its original mission.
"Our overarching desire was to be of the community, to reflect the community and to serve the community, flying completely in the face of what the stereotype of Miami has been over so many years," said Kaplan.
From Beach Books to the Big Time
He says when the store first opened, Miami didn't have the "luster" it has now. He remembers a Miami known more for crime. At first, he had a tough time getting publishers to take the region seriously.
"When we would ask for an author to come down, the publishers in New York would often say, 'Well, we have this new non-prescription drug book, and we'll be happy to send that author down.' Or, 'There's this new book that would be great for the beaches, you know a great beach read,' and not understanding really the complexity and diversity that is Miami, and I knew it because I saw what people were buying."
Now Books & Books is known for bringing world-famous authors to South Florida for readings and book signings. Kaplan estimates the store has held 6,000 such events over the last 30 years.
Kaplan recalls Christopher Hitchens as one of the most fascinating authors the store has ever hosted. The famed author and journalist came to the area on his book tour for God is Not Great.
In the sanctuary of Coral Gables synagogue Temple Judea, Hitchens, an avowed atheist, debated believers including a rabbi, a Catholic priest and a Buddhist nun.
"It was one of the most dazzling displays of intellect that I had ever seen," remembers Kaplan.
So what's next for the store?
Kaplan's got his eye on the Conch Republic. He says a store in Key West could be in the works. He's also delving into filmmaking and publishing.
Books & Books celebrates its 30th anniversary this Saturday, November 3, with free food and drinks at the shop in Coral Gables.