In this inaugural edition of Shelf Space—a monthly feature highlighting indie bookstores across America—we talk to Mitchell Kaplan, the owner of Books & Books. Books & Books is a locally owned bookstore with three locations in South Florida and stores in Grand Cayman; Westhampton Beach, New York; and the Miami International Airport. Kaplan, a Miami Beach native, founded Books & Books in 1982 and is the co-founder of Miami Book Fair International.
What is Books & Books famous for?
After 32 years in the book business, I guess we’re most famous for still being here. Miami is always underestimated when it comes to the vibrancy of its literary culture, and it’s possible that we’re best known really for supporting and helping to build on traditions that came before us. We have three stores we own in South Florida, and the ambience, selection and service at each one are distinctive enough to be memorable. We also present almost 700 events per year, with roots that are very deep in the community. We’ve been instrumental in the founding and sustaining of the Miami Book Fair, and that has become a community treasure and sense of pride for all Miamians.
If Books & Books were a religion, what would be its icons and tenets?
No atheist bookseller should ever have to answer this question, but I’ll try. We would be the people of the “great, good place,” and our temple would be the bookstore that serves its community in the name of all the “great literary spirits” past and present. We would trade in “karma credits,” making sure we were able to ascend to the highest circle of bookselling by exposing our followers to brand new voices of all kinds, fostering a diversity of thought but, most importantly, doing whatever it might take to develop the next generation of readers, while at the same time acknowledging the literary elders whose shoulders we all stand on. Our icons would be the typewriter and the book, the illustrator and the designer, and the cup of coffee and glass of wine.
Which was one of your favorite all-time events and why?
My favorite events are almost too many to mention, but one that sticks out as most memorable was the evening we had Christopher Hitchens take on a rabbi, priest, Buddhist nun and evangelical pastor while promoting his God Is Not Great. He was extremely controlled and polite until the rabbi had the temerity to accuse him of perpetuating the “blood libel.” He took off his gloves, brought out the long knives and proceeded to carve each of them up one by one. It was masterful.
I guess another memorable time was when Lauren Bacall whispered to me that I was a “ham” when I introduced her. I think she wanted something more succinct so she could make it to Joe’s Stone Crab on South Beach before it closed.
What are some of the highlights of Books & Books’ history?
We opened the first B&B in 1982 in a 500-square-foot space in Coral Gables, not far from the University of Miami. From the beginning, we specialized in all the arts and always have had a large selection of books on art, architecture, design and photography. Our second shop opened on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach in 1989 at a time when Miami Beach was having a very difficult time. I’m from Miami Beach, so it was particularly gratifying to open a bookshop across from where the Doubleday Bookstore of my youth used to be.
In 1999, we moved the original store to a historic building with a significant courtyard and opened the Café @ Books & Books. In 2005, we opened in The Bal Harbour Shops, and just recently, we partnered with others to bring a Books & Books to the Cayman Islands; Westhampton Beach, Long Island; and the Miami International Airport.
Photo above left is of Books & Books' co-founder Mitchell Kaplan; the photo above right is of Books & Books' Coral Gables location.