afro-in-book-store_web.jpgFlorida International University

MIAMI — The owner of the well-known independent bookstore Books & Books is negotiating to reopen Afro-In Books and Café, a Liberty City landmark that hosted such luminaries as Maya Angelou and Will Smith.

“Right now, we’re at a very exploratory stage,” said Mitch Kaplan, whose locations in Coral Gables and Miami Beach rank among the best independent bookstores in the country.  “We’re definitely exploring the possibilities of reopening Afro-In, and we’re working to make it happen.”

At least some members of the black community said they welcome Kaplan’s involvement, even though it comes from outside the community.

“The first white allies in our struggle came from the Jewish community, and the struggle continues,’’ said T. Willard Fair, president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Miami, recalling the whites who marched with black people during the Civil Rights movement. “So Mitch’s behavior is understood, expected, and welcomed.”

Marvin Weeks, a local artist who sits on the city Arts and Entertainment Council and is working with Kaplan, said reopening the Seventh Avenue bookstore is part of a broader effort to remake the street as a cultural arts district.

Afro-In closed last summer after several changes in ownership. Kaplan, who founded the Miami Book Fair International, offers the store a shot at long-term survival, Weeks said.

“You can't just open up a bookstore and expect it to survive,” Weeks said.  “A partnership is how it will thrive in this current economy.”
Kaplan said he hopes to reopen the store in the fall in conjunction with the book fair.

Afro-In was the area’s only bookstore in its day, and among the only stores in South Florida featuring African-American and Caribbean literature.

Earl and Eursla Wells opened the bookstore in 1981.

“We opened the store primarily because there was a lot of information about the black community that wasn’t being provided,” said Earl Wells, who ran the store with his wife for 17 years, and still own its 5575 NW Seventh Ave. location.  “We wanted to get that information out to the community at large.”

Both retired Miami-Dade educators, the Wells now live in Nashville, Tenn., Eursla Wells’ hometown.

The Wells’ nephew, Clarence Jones, oversees the property and wants the store to enhance local cultural life.

“Whether it’s a bookstore or something else, our intent is to do something cultural and vital to the area and the Seventh Avenue corridor,” said the retired assistant superintendent with Miami-Dade County Public Schools.

After the Wells left in 1998, they leased the building to William and Stephanie Clark.

The Clarks ran the Afro-In Books and Things for five years, but decided to pursue other ventures.  William Clark is a firefighter and paramedic for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue.

In 2006, Larry Capp, a member of the Miami-Dade Community Relations Board, reopened the store with his daughter, Jamila, adding a café and offering wi-fi.

They closed the store last August.