Most indie booksellers who want to expand their business add more stores, and that’s the way Mitchell Kaplan initially tried to grow Books & Books, which he opened in Coral Gables, Fla., in 1982. Seven years later he opened a second store on Lincoln Road, in Miami Beach. After a 16-year hiatus, he opened a third, in the upscale Bal Harbour Shops Mall. But in the past five years, since the economy has faltered, the real growth for Books & Books hasn’t come from the stores or their restaurants/cafes, run by chef/managers like James Beard Award–winning chef Allen Susser at Coral Gables. Instead Kaplan’s succeeded by monetizing the Books & Books brand.
“We’re trying to leverage who we are. It also takes some of the financial burden away” from owning the stores on our own, explains Kaplan. “The whole idea is we’ve built up a certain value over 30 years.” In terms of retail, that has led to partnerships that resulted in the opening of Books & Books in the Cayman Islands in December 2007 with Dart Realty (Cayman) Ltd., and a store in Miami International Airport in 2008 with Areas U.S.A., plus a Books & Books in Westhampton Beach, Long Island, N.Y., with Jack McKeown and Denise Berthiaume in 2010. Last year Kaplan transformed the gift shop at the Museum of Art in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., into a bookstore/cafe and a few months later opened the Gift Shop by Books & Books at the Coral Gables Museum.
More recently Kaplan has partnered with entrepreneur Doug Levine, founder of Crunch Gyms, to create small-format bookstore/coffee shops called the Newsstand by Books & Books. Kaplan describes the Newsstands as “neighborhood bodegas with books,” and currently has two—a stand-alone in downtown Miami and a Newsstand inside his Bal Harbour bookstore. “We’re looking to expand in Miami,” says Kaplan. “It’s a powerful concept, because there are so many areas that can’t sustain a full bookstore.” The Newsstands carry IndieBound and regional bestsellers, as well as reading glasses and other book-related items, and serve local coffee, frozen yogurt, and sandwiches.
As a bookseller, founder of the Miami Book Festival, and the 2011 recipient of the National Book Foundation’s Literarian Award for Outstanding Service to the American Literary Community, Kaplan has leveraged his literary cred in other ways, including a small press and a film production company. “Everyone needs to find ways to increase your margin,” says Kaplan. Last year he began a hybrid publishing program with former Taschen America founder Ausbert de Arce, B&B Press. To date, the press has released several titles, from coffee-table books to a commemorative history. PW’s review called B&B’s most recent release, Carolina Garcia-Aguilera’s new novel, Magnolia (Dec.), “[an] engaging tale of what unexpected choices can be made when one’s back is against the wall.”
The Mazur Kaplan Company, co-owned with long-time producer Paula Mazur, made headlines in 2008 when it optioned film rights to Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows’s The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. But its first release will be Nims Island 2 (Walden Media), which will premier in Australia and most likely be sold to television in the U.S. Mazur produced the earlier Nims Island, starring Jodie Foster, which grossed over $100 million, according to Box Office Mojo. Other projects include Lauren Oliver’s Delirium, which is being developed as a series for Fox Network.
Not that Kaplan has neglected the bookstores. All three South Florida stores are doing well in 2012 despite a dip in tourism. “This year our numbers are up,” says Kaplan. “We’ve had some of the best Florida numbers we’ve ever had.” No doubt consignment has contributed to those gains. After pioneering a consignment arrangement with art book publisher Assouline, Kaplan continues to expand the concept with other illustrated-book presses: Rizzoli, Te Neues, Thames & Hudson, Phaidon, and D.A.P. “When you have the books,” says Kaplan, “people buy them. Most are on consignment or very extended terms. We’re doing scan-and-pay terms, which is inevitable if you want books in the store.”
What makes the Books & Books enterprise work is Kaplan himself, not just his business acumen but his passion for the physical book. It’s certainly resonated in Miami, where upwards of 4,000 people attended a street celebration for the 30th anniversary of the Coral Gables store earlier this month. Kaplan describes it as “one big beautiful love fest.” But it was more than that. For some, it was a way to say thank you. The head of the Knight Foundation, Alberto Ibargüen brought a check for $30,000 to be donated to the Miami Book Fair in honor of the bookstore.
As far as what’s next, Kaplan says simply, “we’re open to new ideas.”