“Oh, it feels … heartbreaking.”
Cathy Keller, owner of the independent bookstore Hooked on Books, describes the feeling she has had most since deciding last Thursday that the store would close after 22 years of business in Islamorada.
“I just feel that a community without a bookstore has lost its soul,” she told the Weekly. “It’s so painful to me that there won’t be a bookstore in this community anymore. It’s been here for 22 years, and the fact that it won’t be there anymore is just breaking my heart.”
In Keller’s life, it would seem all roads led her to own a bookstore.
“I’ve always loved books and reading,” Keller said. “Books matter because they are a source of knowledge and comfort. I believe we are always learning, and if you don’t have books, you don’t learn.”
Keller has a degree in English literature, and her favorite book is “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austen. In her 50s and 60s, she went back to school to get a master’s degree in library science. She never had a chance to use her knowledge until the chance to partner in Hooked on Books arose.
Original owners Jean and Kevin Kelly opened Hooked on Books in July 1998. Starting from scratch, they developed a loyal community following. When the Kellys moved to Clearwater to be closer to family, their good friends and retired educators Penny and Jim Bower took over the store and continued to develop business.
Originally a patron of the store, Keller became a full partner with the Bowers in February 2005. She jumped at the opportunity because it was “something I always wanted,” and in July 2006, Hooked on Books moved to its current location at MM 81.9 in the median. In 2011, Keller became the sole owner.
Hooked on Books celebrated its 20th anniversary in July 2018.
“We’re an independent bookstore. That’s the most important part of why it’s special here,” said Keller. “We have something for everyone, new and used books, greeting cards, anything to do with the Keys and Florida, and a huge children’s section.”
Keller also celebrated her employees and their dedication to reading and their customers. “My employees are all readers,” she said, “so they’re knowledgeable about books and love to share with our customers, who really appreciate that.”
Keller put the store up for sale in January because she and her husband are moving back to Pennsylvania to be closer to their three children and three grandchildren. When a prospective buyer backed out last Thursday, she sadly knew it was time to close.
As an epilogue to this chapter in her life as well as that of Hooked on Books and Islamorada, Keller said, “Thank you to the community that has supported us for so long. I’m sorry I won’t be here for them anymore.”
The store reopened on May 4 and will stay open during limited hours of 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily until May 15, when it will close. The going-out-of-business sale features 50 percent off all books, cards, bookmarks, puzzles and fixtures. Used books are $1.
Social distancing measures will be in place, and capacity will be limited. Patrons are required to wear masks and gloves. Inquiries may be directed to [email protected].