An avenue of trees with intertwined canopies, creating a wonderful sheltering shade, connects the bungalows in Cauley Square, one of the most enchanting and secret places in Miami. The village is so far south on the Old Dixie Highway that its origins date back to the early 20th century, when it was an agricultural area and not land occupied by new developments, which have spread to reach the Everglades on one side and Biscayne. Bay on the other.
Wooden houses with colorful windows and eaves and signs that invite you to buy handicrafts, for a tarot or a palm reading, to drink tea in a cozy cottage that has survived hurricanes without losing its charm. stretch on either side of the grove of trees where the song of the birds drown out the cars in this place of shops, galleries and a former wedding chapel.
Almost at the end, when you don’t expect to find much more between brick alleys and statues, there is Sweet Haven Books, a bookstore in which the books are not stored on traditional shelves but on old furniture. , sometimes with a sofa and a vintage lamp on the side, inviting the visitor to sit there and forget the world while reading a book.
“When I came up with the idea for this business, I got comments like, ‘Oh my God, a bookstore for the age of technology!’ But I got more comments from people who said, “I miss reading a physical book and having it in my hands so much,” said Patricia Medina, who spent the toughest months of the pandemic at think about how to open a bookstore.
It was a dream she had in Seattle for 12 years, when her daughter was born and she decided that her life would not be in an office from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., but with her baby girl.
Books in English and Spanish
Medina, who holds a BA in psychology and an MBA, and her husband, Jesús Castellat, who is a career in the military, moved into an old house in Homestead a few years ago and fell in love with Cauley Square.
They knew that few independent Miami bookstores survive and that Hooked on Books, which had been in Islamorada for 20 years, had recently closed.
Cauley Square is located very close to the entrance to the Florida Keys.
Medina and Castellat made a key decision for their bookstore: they would not have books in a single language, but rather texts of all genres in English and Spanish, cookbooks, table books, self-help and at different prices.
“It’s a passionate project. I have my job and my husband has his job. We have economy prices so people can buy more than one book,” Medina said. She warns visitors that the price listed on any book is negotiable.
“The important thing is that people don’t feel like they have to wait for their next paycheck to buy another book. People leave the store happy, with five or six books,” she adds.
A second life for old furniture
Passionate about antique furniture, they went to garage sales and garage sales to buy wooden and glass display cases which were used to display glassware and which today contain books by Paulo Coelho, Stephen King, Hemingway but also local authors, because Médine and Castellat take great pride in “serving the community”.
The farthest they went for furniture was Georgia, Medina and Castellat explain, proving it was worth the trip to the neighboring state.
When they bought the furniture, they told the previous owners that they were going to put it in a bookstore and invited them to come and “view the furniture”. Some of them even visited and photographed objects that belonged to their families and which now have a new life.
On the deck at the entrance to Sweet Haven Books, a few small tables invite patrons to sit outside. This is what a writer from Miami does, explaining that he feels inspired to write in this place, Medina said.
“We love seeing teenagers spend up to an hour reading their childhood books,” Medina says, pointing to the room dedicated to books for children and teenagers, where there are also educational toys, cloth dolls that sport shimmering braids like Goldilocks, and puzzles, favorites of a generation accustomed to video games.
A Miami bookstore where you feel at home
In the afternoon, a group of teenagers come to do their homework. The store already has two book clubs, one for women, which had its first meeting Feb. 4, and another for teens, which will meet beginning at 7 p.m. There are also open mic sessions, with songs and poems.
“Besides being a bookstore, it’s a place where everyone feels comfortable,” says Medina, who ordered special snacks, pretzels and popcorn that she loves.
Bookstore visitors also leave notes for Scruffy, the Medina-Castellat pup and store pet, which reaffirms that feeling of home.
Other notes welcomed by the owners of Sweet Haven Books are suggestions from customers. If they don’t have a book in the store that customers like, an author that they usually read, they ask customers to leave a note with the information, so they can order it and have it ready for them when they return.
Medina and Castellat are also proud of the selection of works on the history of Florida and ancient texts, some of which in first editions, which they acquired under the guidance of historian César Becerra, a specialist in history from Cauley Square, where it offers public visits the first Saturday of each month from 11am.
“There aren’t many old-school style bookstores in Miami — they’ve all closed,” says Becerra, an admirer of the history of Cauley Square, one of the oldest locations in South Miami-Dade, although many small houses that remain are not the original ones.
On her Saturday tours, Becerra takes visitors to Tree of Life, a store that offers a variety of incense, stones, oils, and books on spiritual topics, and Sweet Haven Books, where readers can find her most recent book, “Orange Blossom 2.0,” on lesser-known facts about Mary Brickell, a key figure in Miami’s development.
“Cauley Square is a place that takes you away and relaxes from modern life. Everything is slower there, people have to park their car, walk to the little houses and discover the places,” concludes Becerra, pointing out that Sweet Haven Books, with its comfort, its flair and its original way of presenting the books , adds a lot to the mystery of the place.
Sweet Paradise Books
Or: Cauley Square Historic Village, 22400 Old Dixie Hwy
This story was originally published February 8, 2022 06:00.