The small storefront sat front-row for the evolution of Miami Beach. The shop survived years of an ever-changing retail environment while helping bolster the area's literary scene.
But faced with increasingly unaffordable rent, Books & Books founder Mitchell Kaplan has decided to close the Lincoln Road location of his quintessential independent bookstore chain for good, as The Real Deal first reported on June 15.
"The rent is way too high for independent small businesses," Kaplan tells New Times. "And I finally said, with all of the big boxes that were opening, that Lincoln Road was no longer the street I wanted to be on."
Kaplan, a Miami Beach native who opened the flagship Books & Books in Coral Gables in 1982 when he was 25, says he kept the Miami Beach location open for years despite the rising rent because of his attachment to Lincoln Road. The space holds many memories for Kaplan, including the time Nightline interviewed legendary crime reporter Edna Buchanan live from the bookstore on the night Gianni Versace was murdered and the Halloween when gothic fiction author Anne Rice arrived at the store in a hearse and signed books for hours on end.
The pandemic — which shuttered Books & Books back in March — helped seal the store's fate, he says.
As the Real Deal reported, Kaplan's decision to call it quits comes as escalating rents on Lincoln Road have driven out other tenants, including big names Steve Madden and Kiehl's. And Miami Beach real estate investor Sam Herzberg — the landlord for Books & Books — recently sued to evict Diesel USA and Perry Ellis for failing to pay rent. Herzberg, according to The Real Deal, plans to build a 144-room hotel addition behind the property.
Kaplan declined to tell New Times how much he paid in rent for the Miami Beach store, but he says it exceeded the rent at any other Books & Books location.
"All these local things that gave the charm to Lincoln Road have been disappearing," Kaplan says. "And the question becomes: What does the community want? Why should a community be held hostage to real estate people or landowners?"
As Books & Books prepares to close, an Amazon store is set to open down the street.
According to a spokesperson, The 5,000-square-foot store, which will take up residence at 700 Lincoln Road, will be the first of the company's so-called Amazon 4-star stores in the Miami area. The shop will carry Amazon items that earn an average of four stars or more in customer reviews, are top sellers, or are trending on the site. Merchandise includes electronics, toys, games, kitchen appliances, and home decor.
Kaplan says the e-commerce giant's arrival did not influence his decision to close Books & Books.
"I didn't learn about Amazon coming to Lincoln Road until we were already deciding to leave," he says.
For nearly 20 years, film documentarian Billy Corben has worked out of an office on Lincoln Road with his partners at Rakontur, a production company. During those two decades, Corben says, he has seen high rents plague the corridor, converting it from quaint to commercial.
At one point, Corben says, Books & Books was the most accessible, affordable, consistent place to visit on Lincoln Road. But after Kaplan sold the store's café to a new owner about two years ago, that amenity lost its charm.
"I finally said, with all of the big boxes that were opening, that Lincoln Road was no longer the street I wanted to be on." — Mitchell Kaplan, Books & Books
Portions shrank and prices rose, Corben says. The cocktail menu began to tout oversize margaritas with Corona beers tipped in. A DJ played outside on weekends, sending a thumping bass down the mall.
A once-cool spot for locals had become another tourist destination, Corben laments.
"It's like: What is this supposed to be? Who is this for?" the filmmaker says of Lincoln Road. "It's a place with nothing for nobody now."
The inventory from Books & Books' Miami Beach store will be distributed to other locations in Coral Gables, Bal Harbour, Coconut Grove, Key West, and Pinecrest — all of which will remain open. Several senior staff members from the Miami Beach store will move to the Bal Harbour location.
Right now, the contents of the store are being packed away into boxes, Kaplan says. While he feels a sense of melancholy at leaving, he knows his closure is one of many.
For now, Kaplan is reviewing his options opening a location to replace the Lincoln Road store, preferably somewhere in Miami Beach. He says he's committed to continuing to preserve the city's vibrance and quirkiness.
"This is really about Lincoln Road, not about Books & Books," Kaplan says of the move. "The spirit of Books & Books remains."