Miami native Mitchell Kaplan sits surrounded by books. In a time when the number of independent booksellers dropped from over 6,000 to just under 2,000, Kaplan has successfully built an arts and business hybrid that is Books & Books. His establishment is a success story, thanks in part to his relationships with the authors that create the books he sells and to the community. Thirty-two years ago, Kaplan had a vision to create a place to congregate outside of work and the home. He wanted an environment where people could meet, relax, share knowledge while celebrating the local literary and cultural community.
In 1983 he helped establish the internationally recognized Miami International Book Fair. He and several other community leaders got the call from Miami Dade College President, Eduardo Padron, to create a community-wide book event that would bring a larger audience to the Wolfson campus. From the start it celebrated writers and readers and has grown into one of the top festivals in the country, a week-long celebration of all things literary. The event includes author readings, showcase events, and children’s activities. As co-founder of the fair, Kaplan has served on the board for over 30 years and helped develop the Florida Center for the Literary Arts. Today, Books & Books hosts over 700 literary events each year in Miami. Kaplan’s team is also actively involved in bringing nearly 400 artists to the Miami International Book Fair. In addition, his stores host unique events with dozens of arts groups and artists each year.
We sat down with Mitchell Kaplan to talk about his unique experiences working as both a small business owner and supporter of our local cultural community.
ABC: What do you think makes a vibrant community and what role do the arts play?
MK: If you do not have an active arts community, you miss out on the intellectual creativity it brings. Miami is a great example of the impact arts can have on the community. Twenty five years ago we had very little to offer cultural consumers. The arts bring economic vitality to neighborhoods and help local merchants and businesses that profit for their patrons and participants.
ABC: Why do you think it is important for business to support the arts?
MK: Miami is a great city with cultural assets that bring a creative vitality to our community. Companies should support the arts to maintain that sense of excitement; it draws more visitors to our city and enhances the quality of life for our residents. As an independent bookstore, my customers vote with their purchases. For me partnerships with the arts expand the reach of the store and draw in new business. We used to send out a printed newsletter and now do it by email. Each one features exciting information on authors and features upcoming events and programs. Most of them have a strong cultural component which we cherish and relish.
ABC: What do you value in a partnership with the arts and what role do tangible benefits play?
MK: I look for partnerships that are mutually beneficial and create a platform that introduces new audiences to both partners. I look at who their target audience is and what does the group bring to the table. Is it a good fit for our company? Our featured partners provide a benefit to their clients or customers who then become aware of Books & Books. It is a circle, creating a win-win for all. The same with our partnerships with authors; writers are not only artists but are creators of the product that we sell. Our success benefits them and their success benefits us.
ABC: Tell us about one of your great partnerships with the arts.
MK: There have been so many over the years it is hard to pick just one. We have worked with theatre groups and hosted local play readings. We have had music groups that performed and educational programs for arts board members and artists. We have also had some unique collaborations with banks, temples, churches and even retail giants. We worked with Macy’s, hosting local cookbook authors to do cooking demos in their in-store kitchens. We have the opportunity to get creative with our authors and partners, which makes the relationship successful.
ABC: How do you personally decide which companies to patronize?
MK: I find I support businesses that support things that I appreciate or causes that are important to me – especially small businesses that give our neighborhoods a unique feel. When you spend $1 with a local merchant it is like spending $6 with a national retailer, which means more is invested back into the local economy and the community.
ABC: Anything else you would like to share?
MK: You need to develop a great team to survive, either in business or the arts. My team of marketers, buyers, vendors and staff understand the larger mission of Books & Books and help us to thrive. Even in difficult economies or circumstances surrounding yourself and your business with creative energy is always fulfilling and profitable.
(This post, originally posted on ArtsBiz Miami’s Blog, is one in a weekly series highlighting The pARTnership Movement, Americans for the Arts’ campaign to reach business leaders with the message that partnering with the arts can build their competitive advantage. Visit our website to find out how both businesses and local arts agencies can get involved!)