Pity there aren’t more awards in the world so Mitchell Kaplan could add another to his mantel. Not that the founder of Miami’s beloved Books & Books would seek out such an accolade, mind you; or that the bestowable sort isn’t content with the many he’s already won. Still, between the upcoming Miami Book Fair (which he co-founded and continues to chair), and the many branches of the ever-bustling Books & Books, Kaplan’s contributions to the community deserve repeated recognition. In a way the multitudes who perpetually move through Books & Books ensure Kaplan is duly recognized -- every single day. But even the most frequent visitors won’t wanna miss wishing him and his establishment a Very Happy 30th Birthday.
If you had to equate Books & Books with one literary character, who would it be and why? It's hard to pick a single character, but since the guiding principle behind Books & Books has been one which includes a sense of community, clearly it would be any of those that are synonymous with Paris in the '20s. One of the earliest influences on me was reading about the central role Shakespeare & Company and Sylvia Beach played in the development of the expat literary community in Paris. I love to see bookstores central to their communities – Gotham Book Mart, City Lights.
Would you say that’s always kinda been the case? Yes, everything we do, we do to serve our communities – readings, great booksellers on staff, bringing authors into the schools, our involvement with the Miami Book Fair, unique spaces with cafes, wonderful selections. Our goal is to give added value to all those who support us.
Have each of the branches also kinda come to be de facto characters themselves? It's my hope that each store represents its customer base and I think they do. The Beach store on Lincoln Road is a bit of our wild child; the Bal Harbour store with its emphasis on a more selective collection of art and design books caters more to the carriage trade; and the Gables store is the workhorse where we hold most of our events and where, because of its layout, customers can come long distances and feel welcome to linger for hours.
Any particular parallels spring readily to mind? Well, we opened at a time when many other folks like me decided to open literary bookstores that would serve their communities. Even though there has been much attrition and many remarkable establishments have disappeared, there are still bookstores that remain some of the most vibrant and important institutions in their respective cities. I can think of Powell's, Tattered Cover, Elliott Bay Books, Third Place Books, Politics and Prose, The Harvard Bookstore, McNally Jackson, Vrooman's, Book Soup, Square Books, Changing Hands, King's English, and many, many, many more. It's certainly a challenge, but owning and operating a bookstore is an act of passion and commitment and because there are plenty of booksellers who retain that passion, their stores will remain an important contributor to our culture.
Do you see the story sorta staying that universal course? Books & Books is a lot of different things to lots of different people and I think if it were a book it would certainly be shelved in almost every section of a store. Although the digital universe is growing, I still see a future for bookstores. There is something primal and essential about wanting to touch and feel the book as object, as well as wanting to congregate in a real place where one can run into and meet others with the same passion for all things literary.
Books & Books' 30th Anniversary Party takes place Saturday, Nov. 3 at its Coral Gables branch. For more information log on here.