Publishers Weekly hails Mitch Kaplan as a “Change Maker”
Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books bookstore in Coral Gables, is featured in this week’s Publishers Weekly as a “change maker” — able to prosper in a difficult time largely by staying “true to traditional bookselling while opening himself up to other opportunities.”
Here in South Florida, of course, we know Kaplan as something more than a book store owner: He’s a regional cultural treasure. In addition to keeping one of the country’s best independent bookstores going for more than a quarter century, he’s also the co-founder of Miami Book Fair International, which marks its 26th year Nov. 8-15 by bringing some 300 national and internationally renowned authors, including Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk, Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood, humorist Roy Blount Jr., former Vice President Al Gore and rock singer Iggy Pop.
Two years ago, when Books & Books celebrated its 25th year, I wrote a profile of Kaplan for the SunSentinel, calling him “the Miami Book Fair’s most public face — tall, bearded, serene, seemingly everywhere at once without ever getting into a hurry.”
Kaplan joked about his ability to manage chaos: “It’s like Woody Allen. I’m growing tumors inside.”
Behind that calm facade, though, lies a shrewed business mind. As PW reports, Books & Books now boasts locations in Miami Beach, Bal Harbor, Miami International Airport, and the Cayman Islands, the last three in partnership with other businesses. He recently opened Newstand by Books & Books, an open-air shop at Bal Harbour that sells newspapers, magazines, yogurt, pastries and specialty coffees.
Like most of Kaplan’s ventures in recent years, the newstand is a partnership, this time with Crunch Gums. If it succeeds, he hopes to expand to other locations. He is also in talks with Areas USA, his partner for the new airport store, about selling books at Florida Turnpike rest stops.
Not all of Kaplan’s partnerships have triumphed. A few years ago, he opened a bookselling section at the Levenger store in Boca Raton. It seemed like a natural collaboration — Levenger sells highend furniture, pens, lamps and other “tools for serious readers” –but it didn’t quite take.
Still, says PW, alternatives to traditional bookstores remain an important part of Kaplan’s strategy: “In talking to other businesses about co-branding, there’s a recognition that books are traffic builders,” he says. “If you’re able to show value to another entity, they’re likely to want to make concessions.”
But South Florida book lovers need not fear — Kaplan will always be committed to his traditional bookstores, especially the flagship location in Coral Cables which hosts an average of 60 author appearances a month.
“I really believe in community gathering places,” says Kaplan. “Your store has to be so integral that your community won’t let it go out of business. There’s the library, the park system and your bookstore.”