The first time I met Mitchell Kaplan, I was 16 years old and had been working at Books & Books in the Cayman Islands, a branch of his South Florida chain of independent bookstores, for just under nine months.
In one of the most memorable conversations I had with Mitchell, he told me about what led him down the path of bookselling, the greater role bookstores play in the DNA of a community and the role I played in all of it.
He told me I had a future in bookselling and spoke to me about a career I had never imagined. He offered me a path for my future, and a path to become a part of his company’s future.
He was, inadvertently, my first mentor.
I left Books & Books after just over three years of employment to head to England to finish my law degree. On my way, I made a purposeful detour in Miami to visit the Books & Books Coral Gables store.
I ran up to Mitchell in the store that day and said, “I’m not sure if you remember me, but my name is Alanna and I worked in the Cayman store.”
He spoke to me for more than 20 minutes, in the middle of his busy day. He told me that if I ever needed anything, wanted to switch careers, become a writer or move to Miami and sell books for a living, I would always have him as a line of support. I left with a hug and began shopping around the store. As I was checking out, he walked to the counter and asked, “Did she get her employee discount?” I had not worked at Books & Books for around five months at this time.
The following summer, I returned to Books & Books in Camana Bay as a part-time employee. During my last Christmas working at Books & Books, we got a call in the store. It was Mitchell Kaplan calling to wish us a Merry Christmas. I told him I’d finished law school and was working in HR for Dart Enterprises, the “mother” company of the Books & Books Cayman Islands store. I told him I thought it would be my last Christmas in the store and how much I had enjoyed working for his company. He said he was excited to see what opportunities I would have at Dart and that it was a great place to work.
But Books & Books, a company that established a culture of family from the top down, was also a great place to work, and one at which I learned much.
Working for Books & Books, under the leadership of Mitchell Kaplan, taught me about employee engagement, and permanently shaped my view of the company; I remain loyal to my Books & Books family and to the community they created and generously allowed me to be a part of.
I am forever inspired and forever engaged by the leadership I was exposed to, in my nearly five years of working for Books & Books.
As a result, I am forever a bookseller.