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There’s nothing quite like a real book — holding it, smelling it, turning the pages and getting those stubborn paper cuts. In a world where many things are moving away from the physical and are instead going electronic, Key West Island Books is your one-stop shop for all things literature. Although e-books are the latest craze, there’s still a spot on the island where tourists and locals can go to get their favorite cookbooks, novels to take to the beach and other literary finds.
Located in the heart of Old Town at 513 ½ Fleming St., Key West Island Books is the oldest bookstore on the island, carrying over 80,000 new, used and rare books. Browse the shelves and you’ll find everything from New York Times best-selling authors to trendy and juicy beach reads that’ll leave you wanting more. The store itself is a playground for readers, where judging a book by its cover is highly recommended.
Key West Island Books is owned and operated by husband and wife duo Paul and Suz Orchard. In 1992, Suz came to Key West from Maryland to vacation with her girlfriends and to visit friends who lived on the rock. Paul, who was born in Michigan but raised in Cape Cod, was in Key West at the time taking a semester off of college. The bookworms met on the island and fell head over heels for one another and the rest, as they say, is history.
What started out as a local bookstore in 1975 on Duval Street quickly moved to its current location on Fleming Street in 1976 and has called the address home ever since. After working full-time as the store’s manager for over 12 years, Suz was given the opportunity to call the store her own and the duo purchased Key West Island Books in the spring of 2015.
“I was the manager for 12 years during a time when bookstores were in trouble,” Suz says. “Bookstores all over the country were closing due to the likes of Amazon and their latest invention, the Kindle.”
You could say the store sort of landed on her lap like a good novel. “Even though I knew it might not turn a profit, I knew I had to keep the bookstore going. It’s such an important literary landmark in Key West,” she says.
The store, known for its vast collection of both used books and books by local authors such as David Sloan, Liz Acar and yours truly (yes, this is a not-so-shameless plug for my latest book, “Keep Going”), has something for everyone on your list. “My goal is to focus on the local authors and give them a platform, a place for their voices to be heard,” Suz says. “I want to be the place where locals get their start.”
Aside from being the oldest and only used bookstore on the island, Key West Island Books is family owned and operated, with guest appearances by employee Snow and volunteers Lisa, Erin and Kristina. As soon as you walk into the shop, you’re greeted by a beautiful soul with long, cascading brown locks. From the tone of her voice you can tell she’s having a great day, and who wouldn’t, being surrounded by classics like “A Moveable Feast” and “A Streetcar named Desire”?
“I love the tactile nature of a book,” she says. “Holding a book, smelling the fresh ink, watching your progression through the story as you thumb through the pages. The holding of the book is it for me. I love getting lost in another world and learning.”
From her extensive knowledge of her inventory, you can tell immediately that Suz is no stranger to the space. She loves curating a collection of books for visitors to take to Fort Zach to read while they work on their tan or for locals looking to escape the island by way of flipping the pages.
“Anybody can buy a bestseller,” Suz says. “You can download everything on your phone. Point, click and it’s yours in a matter of mere seconds. I have the latest bestsellers if that’s what you’re looking for, but if you’re looking for something you’re not going to find anywhere else, like indie authors, I have that, too.”
Suz prides herself in finding that special book for each person that sets foot into the shop. “I take my time when readers are looking for a book,” she says. “I’ll find you the book you’ll love and put you onto new authors you’ve never heard of before.”
If you want to get lost in a good book, there’s a paper cut with your name on it at Key West Island Books. With postcards, calendars, bookmarks, playing cards, designs from local artists and great books by local authors, there is something that will make you want to drop your hard-earned cash. It’s also the only store on the island where you can bring a piece of the bookstore home with you by way of their line of bookstore scented candles.
Stop in Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. or on Sunday from noon to 6 p.m. and chat it up with Suz. Let her help find you your next favorite read. And remember: Judging a book by its cover is allowed at Island Books because there are so many books and so little time! ¦