The first shop was started in a 1972 building, following the Coral Gables architecture with a typical Mediterranean Revival style dear to this southern Miami suburb
A modest start
Miami, Sunshine state. Where stereotypes are part of common life, it is never cold, there is no dress code and parties are never over. Florida, where the North and South side souls live together: the farther North you go, the more Southern it becomes. Lingering, an activity which is in fact natural to this specific area, is also what Books and Books Coral Gables offers to its visitors: it is the vision that Mitchell Kaplan had in 1982 when he first opened the doors to what was a much smaller operation back then, which later on transformed into a solid reality with more than 8 delocalised Florida state-based locations, including Miami Beach.
Mitchell, a man whose highest title has always been represented by the word ‘writer’, understood soon enough that the other half was composed by the hidden booksellers, who made the dream a possible reality and formed community. This is what moved him to open the first Books & Books in 1982 in a small, 500 sq. ft. space in Coral Gables, Florida just after dropping out of law school at the age of 25.
The modest bookstore developed a following for the vast collection of books on art, architecture, and photography; creating a literary movement Miami had never seen before. Mitchell’s vision of building an environment where like-minded people could gather, learn and discuss became a reality and it was clear that we he created something special.
A time of migrations
The first shop was started in a 1972’ building, following completely the Coral Gables architecture with a typical Mediterranean Revival style very dear to this southern Miami’s suburb. The interior, with its floor-to-ceiling, dark wood bookshelves, perfectly curated books ranging from biographies and poetry to cookbooks and science fiction offers a prime example of how an independent bookstore looks like.
When thinking of book institutions, Miami, which wasn’t yet on the map in the 80’s, was going through a very critical and fundamental period from a sociological and development point of view: it was the time of migrations, especially from Cuba and the new reorganisation of the city and its ‘borders’. “I knew that there was a sophistication here that nobody gave Miami credit for, because I witnessed what people were reading,” declared Mitchell for The New York Times in 2019.
After convincing publishers in New York to send writers, he started a reading series in the store. In 1984, he and Eduardo J. Padrón, now the president of Miami Dade College, co-founded the Miami Book Fair, which has since grown from a one-week affair into an organisation that sponsors events throughout the year, drawing hundreds of thousands of participants from all over the world. Miami Book Fair, together institutions like Art Miami represent today a fundamental sum up of what the Sunshine state represents from a geo-cultural point view.
Writers like Isaac Singer, James Baldwin, Hunter S. Thompson and Toni Morrison came for readings early on and drew huge crowds. In the late 1980s Kaplan expanded the Coral Gables store, then opened his second on Miami Beach, down the road from where he grew up.
As the migration kept expanding, so did the titles and the offer proposed: voices and narratives that had long been overlooked found communion in the bookshop, and their before unquoted readers a space to meet and share. The cafe played also a role in the development of the much needed community, offering a diversity of meals for any and each time of the day, always keeping in mind the open minded spirit which catheterises the indie bookshop; it features also an outdoor courtyard with a vegan-friendly cafe turning into wine bar for the evening, standing for a slower pace from the rest of the high energy of Miami.
Magic in the act of research
Amid national cries about the death of the printed word and the rise of Amazon — Books and Books has grown into one of America’s premier local bookstores, all while expanding to Miami Beach, Bal Harbour, downtown Miami, and even Grand Cayman. Furthermore, his flagship expresses the owner’s commitment to connecting authors with readers thanks to the nearly nightly readings and book signings, which contributed highly to create a loyal following.
Today, the need for physicality and concreteness, greatest example of which is the connection that new generations developed with the re-discovery of vintage and found objects belonging to ancestors and dear ones, is weirdly enough represented also by a social media like Instagram.
It consists of a process given by the act of browsing without a purpose, finding, learning and consequently loving.
It may not be the initial purpose of a bookstore, but it carries the same final message: you know what you can find in the store but you never know which new things will come and may surprise you. It is within that act of research that magic happens, letting yourself get surprised by what the selection has to offer. It is about getting together too, and this is what Books and Books Coral Gables is about.
265 Aragon Ave
Coral Gables, Florida