Just last week, Nathaniel Sandler moved Bookleggers' headquarters into an enormous loft space just north of downtown. Most books are still in cardboard U-Haul boxes and black plastic crates stacked on top of each other in the back of the main office space. A giant logo for Creative Lifestyle Realty, which owns the property, covers the large window in that main room, so Sandler can't even see out of it onto Biscayne Boulevard.
Sandler began Bookleggers, a type of community-minded roving library, three years ago this summer from absolutely nothing. As an idealistic, entrepreneurial enterprise, it serves as a mesh between an independent bookstore and mobile library, offering books to the community for free or cheap. Once each month, he sets up between 500 to 1,000 books in varied locations around town -- from bars and restaurants like Gramps and the Cypress Room to parks to community centers -- to unite the community in different ways through the written word.
"One of the things that's new about Bookleggers is that it's not a bookstore, but it's also not a library," he says from his new HQ. "It's kind of both. It's a hybrid model I guess you could say. But it allows both free and cheap access to used books, which the community needs."
A brass-looking bust of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow sitting atop a stack of books on Sandler's plastic, foldout desk follows his gaze as Bookleggers' main man continues, "I never would have thought when it started that people would have cared for this long. I think that's partially about books. I also think that's partially about good programming. You have to put books in front of people in a way that makes them want to be there that goes past the books."
Coming up, Sandler doesn't want to give too much away, but notes that Bookleggers is finalizing details for their February and March events. April's will likely coincide with the O, Miami Poetry Festival, which begins on April 1, "with the mission of every single person in Miami-Dade County encountering a poem."
As a full-time freelance writer for the Vizcaya Museum & Gardens, Patricia and Phillip Frost Museum of Science, University of Miami Special Collections, and other organizations and outlets, Sandler has always had a relationship with books -- from when he was a kid in Miami running around local bookstores to a student at Vassar College working in the library. Balancing his writing with Bookleggers is the ideal.
"I think a lot of people, especially freelance writers, are looking for a way to build their career, develop their career, maintain their career, and have something on the side that can actually sustain them," he says. "It would be completely humbling and awesome if this was that thing...If it could be me building my own library, that would be really special."
We'll be profiling those honorable mentions, and eventually the finalists, in the weeks to come. This year's three Mastermind Award winners will be announced February 26 at Artopia, our annual soiree celebrating Miami culture. For tickets and more information, visit newtimesartopia.com.
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