How do you know you've found this hole-in-the-wall book shop? Just look for the Cat in the Paperback.
By Dinkinish O'Connor
A big, black, silky cat slithers out of a nook from a North Miami Beach plaza. Inside is like the Ollivanders wand shop scene in Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone
. And I feel Harry Potter. The tiny shop is wallpapered with thousands of paperback books, thus the venue's eponymous name -- Paperback Exchange.
There are rows and rows of everything: those racy, racist romance covers with the feathered Indian tupping a sweet Desdemona-looking damsel, tawdry Harlequin adventures, coffee table books, Judy Blume and Nancy Drew unforgettables and more contemporary titles: Eat, Pray, Love
, The Millionaire Next Door
and How To Succeed with Women
. "Bibles are of particular interest," says Michael "Mike" McCall, an endearing, cartoon-like character who has been running the space for 10 of the venue's 25 years of existence. Loyal customer Steve Goodman, who sits at a wooden table reading A Bold, Fresh Piece of Humanity, says he's been coming here for 20 years. "Bill O'Reilly is one of my favorite authors," he says.
But what's most fascinating about the venue is the payment system. Clients exchange books with the ones on the shelves at a serious discount. McCall also purchases books that are brand new (two months old or less). He keeps a log of his clients' credit on a handwritten Rolodex card. "Clients will come from Toronto and buy $8,000 worth of books," says McCall. "So, I am always looking to keep my shelves stocked." You can also find comic books, books on cassette and VHS movies. Paperback Exchange is a refreshing discovery for local North Miami Beach residents and students, daunted by the pervasive Payless shoe store-movement, who desperately want a book store of their own. When you're in the area, just like out for Janie -- the big, black, silky cat who looks like she leapt out of a Harry Potter book. Paperback Exchange, 1659 NE 163rd St, North Miami Beach; 305-940-2665
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Janie the Cat guards Paperback Exchange. Photo: Dinkinish O'Connor.