a store closing sign in front of a building
After a little more than two years of existence, Sandbar Books, the only bookstore in the Upper Keys, is going out of business. KELLIE BUTLER FARRELL/Keys Weekly

When Becky Washam relocated to the Florida Keys from Texas during the pandemic, the only  bookstore in the Upper Keys, the long-standing Hooked on Books, had just closed its doors.  Washam immediately saw an opportunity to fill a community void and decided to take a leap of  faith and open a bookstore. 

“I was so happy to be able to bring a bookstore back to the Upper Keys because I really felt like  it was an asset to the community,” recalled Washam. 

In March 2022, Sandbar Books opened in Tavernier Towne, much to the delight of customers and local authors.  

Part-time Key Largo resident and author S.A. Rodriguez decided to launch her debut children’s  novel, “Treasure Tracks,” at the newly opened, nautically-themed independent bookstore. 

“Independent bookstores are important gathering spots to build community by bringing readers  together,” Rodriguez said. “They also play a pivotal role in encouraging literacy in our  children.”  

After more than a year and a half at Tavernier Towne, Washam decided to take another leap. A  storefront had become available in the coveted Morada Way Arts and Cultural District in the  heart of Islamorada. 

In November 2023, Sandbar Books moved to Island Villa near the Hurricane Monument at  MM 81.  

But after just six months, the grim reality set in: the bookstore was not economically  sustainable.

“I really think it’s just bad timing, honestly,” said Washam of the circumstances leading to her  decision to close Sandbar Books. 

“It is sad for me because the bookstore has been my baby,” Washam said.  

“It’s truly a shame to see this hidden gem close,” added Rodriguez. 

Washam’s story highlights the struggles facing small business owners across the board. 

“I think it’s the economy, personally. I’ve talked to other shop owners, several of them, and  everybody is hurting right now,” explained Washam. “Everything is so much more expensive,  people just don’t have as much disposable income and it affects us all. It’s not just retail. It affects  everybody here that depends on tourist dollars.”

Currently, everything in Sandbar Books is 65% off. Washam says it’s a great opportunity for  book lovers to stock up.  

“If they’re smart, they’ll get some early Christmas shopping done,” said Washam of the going-out-of-business deals. 

Many books in the store were inspired by life in the Keys and written by local authors, like Brad  Bertelli, a Keys historian.

“I could not be more thankful for Becky Kreuger Washam and Sandbar Books for supporting  local writers,” Bertelli said. “What an amazing gift she brought to our community. It is sad that  the Upper Keys were unable to support a cultural cornerstone like a neighborhood bookstore.  Thank you, Becky. The presence of Sandbar Books in our community is already missed.”

Although her beloved bookstore will soon close, Washam is not going anywhere. She also owns  Islamorada Mercantile, a clothing boutique located across the street from Sandbar Books. 

As this chapter comes to an end, Washam thanked the Keys community for its support with the  following message posted on the bookstore’s website. 

“It is with a sad heart that I’m announcing the closing of Sandbar Books. It has been a good run  and I can’t extend my appreciation enough to all of my great booksellers, local authors, and loyal  patrons that have supported us from the beginning.”  Washam is planning to be open through the Memorial Day weekend and will also have the store  open during Art Walk on Thursday, May 16. Sandbar Books is located at 81681 Old Highway  in Islamorada.

Kellie Butler Farrell
Kellie Butler Farrell is a journalist who calls Islamorada home. Kellie spent two decades in television news and also taught journalism at Barry University in Miami and Zayed University in Abu Dhabi, UAE. She loves being outside, whether spending time on the water or zipping down the Old Highway on her electric bike, Kellie is always soaking up the island lifestyle. Kellie and her husband own an electric bike rental company, Keys Ebikes.