Independent bookstores are still around. While many are struggling, these shops still cater to local customers and stay connected with their communities -- from supplying children's required summer reading for school to offering new book clubs a place to meet and discuss stories.
``There's a long tradition of independent bookstores being something more than a commercial endeavor,'' said Mitch Kaplan, the owner of Books & Books in Bal Harbour, Miami Beach and Coral Gables.
Booksellers say the physical book has staying power, even as technology changes the way people buy and read books.
The following book stores are maintaining their independent spirit, and serving their communities in ways bigger stores don't:
THE BOOKSTORE IN THE GROVE
After Borders left Coconut Grove, novice booksellers Felice Dubin and Sandy Francis stepped in. They opened The Bookstore in the Grove at The Shoppes at Mayfair in November 2007 ``on a wing and a prayer,'' Francis said.
She believes the store is a haven for those seeking books, a place to get away from the heat and enjoy a cup of joe.
When you get a short tour from her, you also get book recommendations from chick lit to children's classics. Francis has read most of the books on display -- from Twilight to The Passage by Justin Cronin, so she knows what she's taking about.
She said many customers gravitate to selections from the store's monthly book club. Right now, it's The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.
• The Bookstore in the Grove, 3399 Virginia St., Coconut Grove, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday; 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. 305-443-2855.
Most bookstores have shelves neatly lined with books and categorized by author and genre.
But the people at Undergrounds Coffeehaus don't worry about all that. Their books are piled on the floor and scattered along the shelves.
``We're not a Starbucks or Barnes & Noble,'' said owner Aileen Liptak, who has been running the shop for four years.
This place is dim, with dark walls. The store has hosted makeshift prom nights, themed movie nights and dress-up days. The books are kept in their used condition, bent corners, scribbled notes and all.
``Each book has its own story. I want people to come in and get caught up in the journey,'' Liptak said. ``A lot of people come in and flirt with a book; they come in, read it a few times before they buy it.''
• Undergrounds Coffeehaus, 2743 E. Oakland Park Blvd., Fort Lauderdale, open noon to 11:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; noon to 1 a.m. Fridays; 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturdays and 4 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call 954-630-1900.
SPELLBOUND BOOKS & GIFTS
Tucked away on a side street in downtown Homestead, Spellbound Books & Gifts offers new and used books, and more. Owner Dennise Sleeper opened the store in December 2006.
Her focus is education -- stocking her shelves with summer reading books for children and helping them with homework after school for free.
Sleeper knows it made a difference for a boy named Jose, who wrote: ``Thank you for helping me. I am going to the fourth grade.''
A youth group, Eat My Leg, which meets at Spellbound three times a week, just finished an anime novel. Members of The Lamplighters, a writers' group, come to share their work and discuss ideas.
Despite all of that, Sleeper said she'd like to see more local support. She says she is struggling to survive.
``There's no money out there to keep me alive, which is sad because Homestead needs a bookstore,'' she said.
• Spellbound Books & Gifts, 11 SE Second Dr., Homestead, open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For more information, call 305-247-5097.
One of the oldest Spanish-language bookstores on Calle Ocho in Little Havana, Librería Universal is the go-to place for books written by Cuban authors or featuring Cuban topics.
The family-run store, which Juan Manuel and Marta Salvat opened in 1965, is packed with literature and books on art, politics and self-help. The Salvats also publish books in Spanish under the Ediciones Universal imprint.
One long-standing tradition: peñas literarias, or discussion groups that meet on Saturday afternoons.
Alpha, Cervantes and La Moderna Poesia have closed, but Librería Universal endures, though General Manager Marta Salvat-Golik says there are struggles.
``We do whatever it takes. My mom says my dad is not allowed to retire,'' she said.
• Librería Universal, 3090 SW Eighth St., Miami, is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. For more information, call 305-642-3234.
BOOKS & BOOKS
When former English teacher Mitch Kaplan opened Books & Books in Coral Gables in 1982, he said, ``I wanted a place where people could hang out, listen to authors and develop a writing community.''
Nearly 30 years later, his three Miami-Dade stores have become venues where communities of readers and writers have formed and grown.
Nationally famous authors -- Julie Andrews came with The Very Fairy Princess on July 11 -- read from their new books and sign customers' copies at each store. There are several book clubs that meet regularly, jazz in the courtyard, and a cafe.
Kaplan said there are challenges ahead. ``The world is changing. The way books are sold will be different,'' he said, referring to e-readers and Internet booksellers. ``We have to tell our customers there is value in what we do. The money you send to Amazon isn't being spent in the community.''
• Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, is open 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily. For more information, call 305-442-4408.
SHALOM MIAMI PRODUCTS
Shalom Miami Products is a Christian bookstore in West Kendall that offers titles in English and Spanish. Among the most popular: The Purpose Driven Life, The Most Important Person on Earth and El Campo de la Batalla.
The store also carries self-help books about marriage, relationships and leadership, Bibles and other Christian books.
Marvin Peluffo, the general manager, said Shalom bought Benite's Christian Book Store three months ago.
He is bullish about the store and touts the guerrilla marketing tactics he's using to let people know about his business.
Peluffo has convinced other businesses to sell his bestselling books at their shops for $3.99; customers who refer new people to the store get a discount; and workers canvas local churches and neighborhoods with fliers about Shalom.
• Shalom Miami Products, 12574 SW 88th St., West Kendall. For more information, call 786-752-0692.
Spellbound Books and Gifts. Photo: Allison Bezold