One of the original tenants of the Camana Bay Town Centre when it opened a decade ago, Books & Books can trace its roots back even farther — some 35 years to 1982. It began as a small, independent bookstore in a 500-square-foot space in Coral Gables, Florida, the brainchild of a 25-year-old “reformed” law student named Mitchell Kaplan.
Realising his passion lay not in addressing a courtroom, but rather in browsing in bookstores, and inspired by iconic bookstores of the past century, Kaplan carved his own niche in the independent bookstore market. This was at a time, Kaplan says, when chain bookstores began to sell much more than books, ostensibly to increase their profit margin, which ironically led to the name of his store.
“Thirty-six years ago, as I was planning our first store, people would ask me what we would be carrying,” he says. “Finally, after so many people asking, I said one day, ‘We’ll be carrying books … and books!’ Voila, that’s how our name came to be, and even though we now sell many non-book items, our name still reflects the heart of our mission: we were, are now, and will always be about books and literary culture.”
Indeed, from the very beginning, Kaplan established Books & Books not only as a destination bookstore, but also as a venue for literary events. The Books & Books shop at Camana Bay is no exception. The fourth Books & Books to open, and to date the only one on international soil, Camana Bay’s Books & Books Grand Opening in December 2007 featured authors from Cayman and beyond, and was attended by more than 3,000 people.
Throughout its short history, Books & Books in Camana Bay has hosted many other authors, including Alan Alda, Cal Ripken, Jr., Candace Bushnell, Salman Rushdie, Julia Donaldson and Lauren Conrad. “One of our favorite authors, the Booker Award-winning writer Marlon James, originally from Jamaica, was at the store for our opening, and, even then, his brilliance was evident,” Kaplan says.
The authors are indeed special, as are the readers who come to see them. “Each author comes away with a powerful memory of the warmth and enthusiasm of the readers they’ve met through the store,” Kaplan says. “For so many of them, coming for an event at the store was their first visit to Grand Cayman and many returned to the island at a later date just to relax and visit.”
It was a visit to the Cayman Islands that ultimately persuaded Kaplan to establish a Books & Books in Camana Bay. It started just over 10 years ago with an introduction by a mutual friend to Dart Real Estate President Jackie Doak, who was visiting Miami, Kaplan says. Doak described to Kaplan the new Camana Bay project being developed. She and her team were familiar with Books & Books and asked Kaplan to consider launching one in Cayman.
“I was certainly taken aback a bit, as at that time I wasn’t sure an international expansion was in the cards for Books & Books,” he says. “But, after taking a trip to the project, which was under construction, it became very clear to me that I’d love to be a part of what was being developed. Every detail was so well thought out and everything had an eye toward what would be good for those living on island.”
Kaplan is impressed with the sense of community at Camana Bay. “I love the community spirit that is being fostered at Camana Bay and it dovetails so nicely with the kind of independent community-minded bookselling that appeals to me so much.”
He believes, as a bookstore that is part of the community, Books & Books and other independent booksellers like it will not just survive, but thrive, especially in this era of ebooks and impersonal cookie-cutter shopping experiences.
“City centers and high streets seem to be back in fashion and people are hungering for the sense of community that a physical bookshop can bring,” he says. “And, that’s where the Books & Books at Camana Bay shines. Under Terry Cleaver, our relatively new manager, programmes to engage young people and those readers who are of age are being implemented to make the store even more of a gathering place.”
In addition to the value of the programmes offered and the people who work there, Kaplan underscores the importance of ambiance in each of his bookstores, including Books & Books at Camana Bay. “In Camana Bay, a multi-roomed beautiful shop allows for easy browsing and encourages the shopper to linger,” he says. “With a unique selection, chosen for the local community and visitors, the store allows one to find something intriguing.”
The Books & Books business will always be intriguing to Mitchell Kaplan, who sees no end to his involvement in his beloved stores. “I love what I do, so I hope it will be forever,” he says.