Book smart: an indie book store guide

Spellbound Books and Gifts. Photo: Allison Bezold

By Begoñe Cazalis

When was the last time the owner of a store knew your name, remembered your taste and even saved something especial for you? Yet it pains you to have to visit bookstores where everything is too organized and new to be cozy. Surprisingly, there are still some small wonderful bookstores left in Miami — intellectual paradises that carry first editions, rare, old and out of print editions, autographed copies and books in various languages. Here’s a guide to the best places to find a good read.

Fifteenth Street Books
Enter the 1925 building and get transported to the home library of man from the epoch. Every wall, window and corner has a wooden shelf filled with beautifully bound books from passed times. Although the bookstore specializes in the arts, there are many exquisite gems, such as incredibly intact first editions, which are kept behind glass, 15th century books in Latin, a complete leather-bound Italian encyclopedia and autographed Hemingway novels. Not only do they sell history but the store is historic in itself, as it’s a Coral Gables landmark. Hearing owner Julius Ser, who has been there since 1974, talk about his books, his shelves and his building is one of the most gratifying parts of visiting Fifteenth Street Books.
296 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables 305-442-2344;

Dunbar Old Books
A simple and even ugly warehouse door takes you inside an infinite maze of book, books and more books. Although the store has been there for ten years, it’s one of those well-kept Miami secrets. There are only used books, not a lot of valuable antiques, but hundreds of books on every subject. The store is especially a dreamland for animal observers, plant identifying nerds and history buffs. There’s also a large selection of religious books and lots of classics with nice old hard covers, which make excellent gifts. Every section has a chair, so customers can sit in front of the shelves and take their time investigating the relatively cheap books and find surprises not even the owner knew were there.
7061 SW 46 St., Miami 305-669-8719;

Downtown Book Center
Enough old and dusty books. This is the place where Downtown employees buy their paperback to read during lunch. The small bookstore always has the latest bestseller as well as a large variety of books from Latin America on politics, art and traveling. The store also carries lots of spiritual books in English and Spanish, and it’s one of the few places that carry European newspapers like Le Figaro and El Pais, and even a Latin American magazine on books and authors.
247 SE 1st St., Miami 305-377-9939

La Moderna Poesia
If you want to find lots of books in Spanish, head to Little Havana. Once located in a larger space, La Moderna Poesia’s smaller space still carries all the classics, plus new Hispanic authors and a few books in French and Italian. The employees are book connoisseurs and good in their recommendations.
5739 NW 7th St., Miami 305-262-1975

Avalon Manga Shop
More than a bookstore, Avalon is a retreat for collectors of all ages looking for the latest comic book, manga novel or trading card game. They even have novels based on role-playing and trading card games. The store also holds Dungeons and Dragons game sessions weekly, as well as Yu-Gi-Oh! tournaments. Avalon also has computer game tournaments in the cyber section. Find everything you need for your Japanese collection, and if they don’t have that new rare comic you’re amped about, they’ll order it for you at no cost. Become a member and get discounts in comics. The store is large and bright, has plenty of tables for reading and playing and is always filled with Japanese anime aficionados.
20321 Old Cutler Rd, Miami 305-255-6900;

West Kendall Bookshelf
Why buy a new book when you can trade an old one? This trading bookstore has been in southwest Miami for seven years, first in two locations and now only on Kendall Drive. It has the largest section of sci-fi in Miami, as well as a ridiculous amount of romance and mystery novels. Books are always half price off the cover price, sometimes even less. Become a member and bring your old books for trade — you’ll get a pink card on which your store credit is written and 75% off cover prices per each book you trade in. Although the store only carries used books, you usually find what you’re looking for. If you don’t, you’ll most likely find something worth taking home. The employees are always young, book-savvy and have a photographic memory of your taste, which means they’ll save books for you whenever something of your interest comes around.
12558 N. Kendall Dr., Miami 305-596-5353

Spellbound Books and Gifts
It’s small, has coffee and comfy couches, what else could you ask for? This bookstore is located in the middle of the historic Downtown Homestead, which gives it an even cozier aspect. They offer computers, a good amount of books on every subject and a lot of educational toys and books for children. The store also offers regular reading sessions for children of all ages, and for the adults there’s the Homestead Book Club, which meets once a month. They also have a variety of educational and artistic activities every week -and, if you’re there at the right time, free cookies.
107 N Krome Ave., Homestead 305-247-5097;

Books and Books
It could be called the only major independent bookstore in South Florida. Created a quarter of a century ago by Miami’s literary father Mitchell Kaplan, who also co-founded the Miami International Book Fair, Books & Books is the only locally-owned bookstore that has branched into various locations (Coral Gables, Lincoln Road and Bal Harbour and the Cayman Islands). The store is known for having a great selection of books — new and classics – as well as delicious coffees and salads patrons can enjoy while reading or before one of the many author readings, book clubs and children’s events the store holds.
Books & Books, 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables; 305-442-4408. 933 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach; 305-532-3222; 9700 Collins Ave., Bal Harbour; 305-864-4241


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