At a time when many of his colleagues are retrenching or closing their doors, Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books in Coral Gables, Fla., recently reupped the leases for his three South Florida bricks-and-mortar bookstores for another 10 to 20 years. He attributes his ability to prosper despite the numerous pressures facing independents to a decision to stay true to traditional bookselling while opening himself up to other opportunities. “The stores I like were rooted in the past,” says Kaplan, who singles out classic bookshops like the Gotham Bookmart in New York City and City Lights in San Francisco as the inspiration for his stores.
A two-term president of the American Booksellers Association, Kaplan regards bookstores as unique places to be valued and preserved. “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.” That doesn't mean that he sells books exclusively. He has a strong sideline business and in April started a stand-alone, Newsstand by Books & Books, at the Bal Harbour Shops, where one of his full-line bookstores is located. Created in partnership with the owner of Crunch Gums, the 1,000-sq.-ft. open-air newsstand combines magazines and newspapers with specialty coffee, yogurts and pastries—a concept that Kaplan would like to expand to other locations.
The newsstand is not the first time that he has leveraged the value of the Books & Books name. Two years ago this fall, Kaplan opened a 5,000-sq.-ft. store in Camana Bay, an upscale retail and housing development on Grand Cayman, the largest of the three Cayman Islands, in partnership with local developer Dart Realty. “It's been a wonderful experience,” says Kaplan, who describes it as more of a licensing/management arrangement: “It's being run locally, and we support it through buying, management and marketing support.”
Earlier this summer, Books & Books opened its first airport store at the Miami International Airport as part of a licensing arrangement with Areas USA, a Miami-based division of Spain's Areas S.A., which operates 1,200 retail outlets in airports and train stations and on highways worldwide; Kaplan is already considering bidding with Areas for a second MIA site. He would also like to find a way to work with Areas in conjunction with the 30-year turnpike contracts that Areas was recently awarded by Florida Turnpike Enterprise. Looking for alternatives to traditional bookstores is an important part of Kaplan's strategy. “In talking to other businesses about co-branding, there's a recognition that books are traffic builders. If you're able to show value to another entity, they're likely to want to make concessions.”
Within the stores themselves, Kaplan looks to get more value while continuing to maintain strong sections in fiction, art and architecture, poetry, classics, children's, cookbooks and travel. “We're in a returnable business, but it's still net 30,” he says. “As credit becomes tighter and tighter, the shelf life of a book becomes shorter, [and] I've become more of a proponent of true consignment.” At the beginning of the year, he began doing just that with the art book publisher Assouline and has a dedicated Assouline room in both the Coral Gables and Miami Beach stores for which he pays for only books he sells; in addition, Kaplan stocks art books from other publishers on the usual terms.
Kaplan began branching out into other literary ventures when he cofounded the Miami Book Fair International in 1983, and last September he and Paula Mazur, producer and co-writer of Nim's Island, formed a film production company, Mazur/Kaplan Co., to bring books to film. “I love film, and when Susan Kamil at Dial gave me The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I thought, I'm going to dive in.” At present the project is with Fox 2000, and Kaplan and Mazur are considering other properties.
Despite his other enterprises, Kaplan continues to be grounded in the day-to-day operations of the stores and handles most of the frontlist buying. The important thing to him is that everything be connected to the book. “I love what I do,” says Kaplan. “For me, it's about nurturing book culture in any way that I can.”