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Visit us in Key West!

House owners, clients grateful for Books & Books

BY MAXINE LOPEZ-KEOUGH
Florida Weekly Correspondent

COURTESY PHOTO

COURTESY PHOTO

I t’s just after 6:15 p.m. in Key West when a family of three pulls to a shuddering cease atop their rented bicycles.

After twiddling with cumbersome locks and a fussy youngster strapped right into a bucket seat mounted over the again wheel of one of many bikes, the trio makes their approach to a set of glass doorways — clearly marked with the words HOURS 10-6 — and, after finding the doors locked, proceeds to press their faces resolutely towards the glass, as though maybe the sheer pathos of their smushed-nose faces might be enough to convince the individuals puttering around inside the store to return open the doorways.

They’re unsuccessful.

As they turn to go away, slump-shouldered in their defeat, Judy Blume — bestselling writer, National E-book Foundation medalist, designated Dwelling Legend in line with the Library of Congress, famously ardent in her protection of portraying adolescence in unflinching terms to such a degree that the American Library Affiliation has reported hers a few of the most frequently banned books in America and, because of the presence of over 82 million e-book jackets worldwide that bear her face, one of the crucial instantly recognizable authors in the world — rushes to unlock the doors and hurry outdoors into the dusk before the household has had a chance to re-mount its bicycles.

Judy Blume speaking at a reception at Books & Books @ The Studios of Key West.

Judy Blume speaking at a reception at Books & Books @ The Studios of Key West.

“I’m so sorry,” she says, sounding as though she genuinely means it. “We close at 6, but we open at 10 tomorrow — every day. Every day, we’re open 10 to 6. Please come back and see us.”

This last request, delivered with a plaintiveness unusual for somebody who has been a star for therefore long that she’d be forgiven for demanding somebody deliver her zebra milk for her coffee, does not strike this family as notably odd (perhaps they are from Mars).

In normal life, one does not get approached by probably the most celebrated younger grownup authors of all time, who implores that a sweaty stranger please return to see her again. You line as much as see Judy Blume. Individuals fly throughout state strains to see Judy Blume. Celebrities cite her amongst their biggest influences with the same frequency as Hemingway. This can be a lady who provokes superlative adulation; Amy Poehler has prompt that she would really like nothing more than to take a seat at the writer’s ft.

COOPER

COOPER

And but here she is, standing on a road nook, genuinely despondent that this family — helmeted, now, and rolling away into visitors — did not get the prospect to return inside the shop that she and her husband, nonfiction author George Cooper, opened simply over three yr ago.

The shop in question is Books & Books @ The Studios Key West, an unbiased nonprofit bookstore that Blume and Cooper dreamt of opening half a decade before they found the proper time — and venue. Now tucked inside a glass-fronted nook at the backside of a striped Miami Deco monolith that towers over 533 Eaton St., the store shares an handle with the nonprofit arts conglomerate The Studios of Key West, the place Cooper served as a board member for years.

KAPLAN

KAPLAN

In 2015, After the group had finalized its conversion of the previous Scottish Rite Masonic Middle into its present headquarters, Cooper made a play for the empty retail area on the constructing’s floor flooring. Together he and Blume lobbied Mitchell Kaplan, cofounder of the Miami Ebook Truthful Worldwide and founder of the immensely profitable Coral Gables-based Books & Books shops, to companion with them on a Key West outpost. Kaplan agreed to help with the logistics — software, employees training — if Cooper and Blume might discover the appropriate area and raise enough cash to get the whole thing going.

In a city rife with ties to well-known authors, by the time Cooper and Blume started on the lookout for an appropriate area for their very own retailer, Key West’s bookstores had all but disappeared, save one: Key West Island Books, itself the topic of a 2013 article in the Tampa Bay Occasions titled: “The last bookstore in literaturelogged Key West still isn’t ready for ‘The End.’” In a small town seemingly capable of help a whole lot of locations to purchase alcohol, ponders the writer, how did just one bookstore survive? In the article, local poet and Key West Literary Seminar Government Director Arlo Haskell sums up the difficulty in a number of depressing words: “You don’t have to go down the street to buy books anymore when you can order them on your phone.” Haskell, like so many, appeared to consider the inevitable: that print was, if not lifeless, definitely checking into hospice, heading towards the same irrelevant destiny of the VHS tape and 8-track.

Or, a minimum of, that definitely appeared to be the case a couple of years in the past, when years of prophetic editorials that claimed skyrocketing digital ebook gross sales meant the top of so-called “real books” appeared lastly vindicated by the announcement that Borders, the omnipresent bookstore chain that employed over 10,000 staff, can be filing for bankruptcy and shutting the doorways of its 400 shops at the end of 2011. The numbers have been in: E-books had lastly topped print gross sales, and, after the release of writer Stephen King’s novella, “UR,” as an unique to the Kindle storefront was deemed a hit, it appeared even the authors themselves have been starting to jump onboard the e-train.

Interns at publishing houses throughout the nation could possibly be discovered huddled collectively in break rooms swapping business ghost tales — terrifying tales in which self-publishing on Amazon led to the everlasting disappearance of the six-figure e-book advance. Newspapers rushed to optimize their online platforms in order to accommodate an inevitable wave of internet-savvy agoraphobes whose refusal to go away their houses in order to purchase the newest Sue Grafton novel clearly spelled the top of the paper route. A 3rd-generation Kindle that confirmed paid ads to readers in change for a lower initial buy worth was a direct success. Not solely have been bookstores lifeless, but books, it appeared, would now come with commercials. I have never been good at math, and yet, I can keep in mind with gut-wrenching readability the form of a line graph chart passed to me by one in every of my fellow over-caffeinated and underpaid interns, who, like me, had fought tooth and nail for the privilege to trek into New York Metropolis every week in order to reality examine galley copies for the glamorously dry e-book assessment magazine we’d revered since our teenage years, and which now deigned to pay us in metro playing cards. We didn’t care; we have been in literary heaven (which, so far as heavens go, can lean toward the pretentious however remains eternally and adorably uncool).

Ostensibly displaying the variety of bookstores in America over a span of 20 years, the graph consisted of a cooked spaghetti-loose line which started, aligned with a date 20 years prior, in the higher left-hand quadrant of the web page, and sloped steadily downward towards our present yr. It resembled a treacherously steep sledding hill, one you’d attempt only with a helmet and perhaps hockey pads. Perhaps I should take an accounting class just to be protected, I keep in mind considering. (It turned out my bonkers liberal faculty didn’t supply them, a lot to my aid.) That graph struck worry into the hearts of myself and lots of others who’d dreamed of a career in books — “real” books, those of the dusty, smelly, cracked-spine selection. It signaled the top of libraries, of educated salespeople recommending obscure novels, replaced by unfeeling algorithms, bankrupted booksellers and one thing terrifying referred to as the singularity.

To be completely blunt, that graph can go kick rocks.

After a December 2016 article in The New York Occasions titled “What It Takes to Open a Bookstore” went viral amongst the onerous copy-loving guide crowd (the irony of which is aware of no bounds) it seemed the truth was lastly out: after many years of decline — and regardless of a pervasively ominous tone across the media’s protection of print gross sales — the share of small brick and mortar bookstores was rising, thanks in giant part to new stores’ willingness to finance their openings by way of both digital crowdfunding and on the bottom group based mostly fundraising.

By the time The New York Occasions had seen fit to comment, Cooper and Blume have been only two months shy of celebrating 12 successful months as unbiased bookstore house owners and operators, e-books and on-line retailers be damned.

Though, to be truthful, it hasn’t been all gimlets and cupcakes; the enterprise of tangible books, it turns out, though not in danger of extinction, stays a vertiginous climb toward profitability. For one factor, Blume (no stranger to onerous work with some 29 revealed books underneath her belt) had by no means labored in retail.

“We went into this knowing next to nothing except we loved books and bookstores. Years later we’re still learning — every day is a new experience — but we’re no longer beginners,” she says.

Notably shocking was how labor-intensive operating the shop has turned out to be, says Cooper. “Every day the UPS guys come in with a cart loaded with books. Meanwhile we’re going over lists of thousands of newly published books trying to decide which and how many to order.” While they receive constant steerage from Kaplan and his workforce in Coral Gables (“The Mothership,” as Blume fondly refers to them) and whereas their retailer is technically a part of The Studios of Key West, both Blume and Cooper have been fast to commit early on to maintaining autonomy and accountability on the subject of the store’s financials.

“We have to stand or fall on our own financially,” says Cooper, who’s joyful to say it’s all understanding properly thus far, having met its gross sales targets thanks, in giant half, to great help from the group. “Both locals and tourists come in to say thanks every day, and we thank them for shopping with us,” says Blume.

Nearing their 80th birthdays, Cooper and Blume — little question drawing from the frenetic, youthful power of the island they’ve chosen to make their house — don’t look like slowing down. They’re each working six days every week (the experience of having Judy Blume sell you a Judy Blume guide is shortly turning into a bucket record item for a whole lot of fans who’ve deliberate a pilgrimage to the store) whereas making time to perform a little studying themselves. With a stack of latest releases arriving every week, it’s a miracle Blume and Cooper can discover a minute to breathe; to assist their readers keep up, the duo has taken to posting about new releases on the store’s web site, www.BooksAndBooksKW. com.

After rising up in retail (his family owned a digital camera retailer) and hating the expertise, Cooper jokes that he swore he would by no means wind up doing the same. Now that he has, he can’t assist however convey a bit of unromantic wisdom to the job.

“The book business is like running a grocery store,” he explains. “You’ve got your canned goods, staples like Moby Dick, but you’ve also got fresh produce, the new books that will sell or go back to the publishers in a short time.”

The work is exhausting and satisfying, agrees Blume, who admits she also relishes her newly social work life. “I love meeting our customers and chatting with them about what they like to read. After years of locking myself up to write books, it’s fun for me to be on the other end, selling them. I get out of bed in the morning excited about getting to the store. I fall into bed every night exhausted but happy.”

Cooper, for his half, puts it into blunter terms: “You keep coming and we’ll keep busting our tails for you.” ¦

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