For Mitchell Kaplan, his bookstore is that ‘third place’ where people meet, share ideas

By Ashley A. Williams

For Mitchell Kaplan, his bookstore is that ‘third place’ where people meet, share ideas

By Ashley A. Williams
The owner of Books & Books, University of Miami alumnus, and co-founder of the Miami Book Fair discussed his career as an entrepreneur as well as his work in the community during the final “What Matters to U” speaker series event of the academic year.

The University of Miami Student Government welcomed Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books and co-founder of the annual Miami Book Fair, to conclude its “What Matters to U” speaker series on April 22. 

During the virtual discussion, Kaplan, who received his master’s degree at the University, answered thought-provoking questions from Susy Alvarez-Diaz, a senior lecturer in the Miami Herbert Business School, and Kylea Henseler, a junior studying public relations and section editor for Distraction Magazine. 

Spencer Schwartz, chair of the speaker series and a senior studying nursing, shared that inviting Kaplan was an intentional decision aimed at showcasing the impact a South Florida native can make at a local level. 

Today, Kaplan owns five Books & Books locations and is a professor, movie producer, and podcast host. During the hour-long event, he shared his views on the ever-changing retail industry and the impact of the pandemic, the importance of community building, using your voice to bring about positive change, entrepreneurship, and following your passion. 

“I’ve always felt that a bookstore needs to be that third place—it needs to be a place after work, after home, where you go in order to discuss ideas, meet new people—a place that brings together the disparate parts of the community,” said Kaplan. “Because there are so many books published every year, the selection that we have to offer needs to be a selection that also educates.”

From anti-racist issues, to the COVID-19 pandemic, to medical issues, Kaplan shared that he feels it’s his role in the community to present books and authors that will be used to educate readers and help them make sense of what is going on in their community. 

The passion Kaplan has for the South Florida community is evident. He motivated young adults listening in to identify sources of truthful information and to block out the “white noise.” 

“If you can, find mentors, people you respect, and use them as guides as you try to come out on the other side,” said Kaplan, who used the organizations Americans for Immigrant Justice and Shake-A-Leg as examples. 

To adjust to the pandemic, early on Books & Books moved all of its events online so that they could continue to provide the South Florida community with a place to connect with their favorite authors. 

“When you think about this year, how tumultuous it has been, whether it’s George Floyd, whether it’s COVID, whether it’s people having to make sense of putting their kids through school at home, we have been under the most incredible stress possible,” he said. “But you want to know something interesting? This year publishing houses had the best year they’ve had in about 20 years. People have found books as a respite.” 

As for Kaplan’s future plans, he hopes to one day be able to block the street in front of his Coral Gables café to host a giant group hug. One of his long-term goals is to seek out and support Hialeah and Liberty City residents who are interested in opening their own bookstores. 

To conclude the event, Kaplan gave some advice to the campus community about work-life balance and carving out time to “do things you love with the people you love.”

“When you’re an entrepreneur, you’re really working 99 hours a day,” said Kaplan, who enjoys attending Miami Hurricanes basketball games as often as he can. “But you just have to carve out that time—even to read, I have to carve out time. With the age of email, I’m inundated all the time by emails, so I just turn it all off, turn off the news, and just read.”