At 78, bestselling author Judy Blume has added a new occupation to her c.v.: that of bookseller. Most days she can be found plying her trade at Books & Books Key West, a two-month old independent bookstore in Florida that she and her husband, George Cooper, cofounded.
The 1,200 sq. ft. store is located in the building that houses The Studios of Key West, a nonprofit organization that provides studio space for local artists, a residency program for visiting artists, galleries, and classes. In addition to selling books, the store also has an art supply room, which it added earlier this month.
Blume, who describes her role at the bookstore as “Miss Bossypants,” said that she and Cooper lobbied Mitchell Kaplan, founder of Books & Books, which is based in Coral Gables, Fla., to open a store in Key West five years ago, around the time that Borders and Voltaire Books closed. Cooper, who serves on the board for The Studios and as CFO of the bookstore, worked out the arrangements for the space and the store’s nonprofit structure.
But it is Blume’s presence that can be felt throughout the store. One of the three display tables comes directly from her garden, and she’s found that in addition to selling books – both adult and children’s titles – that she “loves” doing displays. Her brother’s comment, according to Blume, was “I always knew you wanted to be a shopgirl.”
As for what it’s like being a bookseller, Blume told PW, “I never knew there was so much work to do. I never knew about dusting.” All the shelves and stock have to be dusted daily. Initially, Blume was working seven days a week, but she and Cooper have begun taking Saturdays off. Not that she’s complaining. “It’s been wonderful,” she said.
In addition to buying and staff training, Books & Books assists in marketing and author appearances. “We’re only a few hours away by car, so our staff has been very available to help when we’re needed to be present,” Kaplan said. He’s been impressed by how “hands on” Blume and Cooper have been. “How wonderful is it if you’re a customer walking into the store only to find someone you grew up reading helping you find a book,” he added.
Besides Blume and Cooper, who will not be present year-round, there are two full-time bookstore employees along with volunteers from among the snowbirds who congregate in Key West in the winter. There are also plenty of customers. Blume estimated that 75% or more are tourists who walk by and come in because they’re excited to see “a real” bookstore – and none complain that they could have gotten their purchases cheaper online.
With all of her work at the bookstore, Blume doesn’t mind having less time for her writing, or at least not yet. After spending five years working on In an Unlikely Event (Knopf, 2015), her first instinct, when asked about being a bookseller, was to cheer. “Yea! I don’t have to write any more. I’m not going to do any more long, long work.” Immediately afterward she backpedaled and added, “I’m not saying I’m not going to write.”
One thing Blume does miss is having enough time to read. But when she’s writing she said that she can’t read much either. “If [a book] is good, it intimidates me, and I want to be in the story,” she said. But the lack of time to read isn’t a concern that Blume dwells on, as she works to get the store off to a good start. “We feel responsible for the store, because we brought it here,” she said. “We feel responsible to Books & Books and to The Studios. So we will remain deeply involved.”
Plus, Blume is having fun. She regards being a bookseller as “a fantasy.” She added, “We’re a work in progress. It’s like a novel. You never know what’s going to happen the next day.”