By Hank Tester

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – The pandemic has been tough on small businesses. While many have not survived, others have made it by modifying their business plan to serve fiercely loyal customer. A good example is Mitch Kaplan and Coral Gables Books & Books.

“We were down a number of months after we got going. We kept the café going, the books store going. It was really, really hard and slow,” he said.

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The 40-year institution – a brand woven into the fabric of Miami’s cultural life – was banged hard by the pandemic.

“We had to be careful with expenses. There are employees we had to reduce hours, or actually furlough some people during the time as well,” Kaplan said.

The vast array of books is the attraction, but the key to Books & Books’ pandemic success is their almost nightly virtual events, featuring authors for readings and lively questions from patrons.

“We pivoted in order to bring into people homes the authors they might see at the books store. So we started doing virtual events,” Kaplan explained.

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And promoting online books sales, which is far different from the traditional “come in and browse and buy a book” the store was built on pre-pandemic, came with a surprise.

“They came and purchased books online, and so much so our online store because our second highest grossing store,” Kaplan said.

Federal Pay Roll Protection funds helped out, and business picked up as customers have become more accustomed to getting out and shopping. But as CBS4’s Hank Tester has found with lots of niche business loyalty, a fan base can help out also.

“We have been a community book store for 40 years,” Kaplan said. “And, you know, we had people donating too. We had people buying gift cards in advance. They did all they could.”

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Kaplan has survived and expanded despite competition from Amazon.