If you Want a Book in Spanish, Altamira Libros is Your Place
By Doreen Hemlock
Spanish-language bookstores are sparse in South Florida, so Altamira Libros on Miracle Mile is a welcome addition for lovers of works by the likes of Cervantes or Padura, or tomes translated into Español. It displays a whopping 16,000 titles and can custom order for pickup, usually within a week.
Venezuelan husband and wife team Carlos Alfredo and Susana Souki never set out to start a bookshop in the United States. They had owned and operated a chain of music stores in their South American homeland for years. But when Venezuela’s government imposed a complex system of foreign exchange controls in 2013, they could no longer afford to import CDs, music books and other supplies. The shutdown of the last of their seven Esperanto stores made front-page news in Caracas.
Carlos Alfredo went to work with a friend who owned a pet store chain in Venezuela, but his pal faced similar woes and closed in 2015. On a trip to South Florida to see family and friends, Carlos Alfredo inquired about where to get Spanish-language books. When he learned that folks often buy selections from Mexico, Colombia and Spain, he decided to approach publishers in those nations about importing directly for a U.S. store.
To his surprise, they said yes. Altamira Libros debutedin late 2016. “There’s a big underserved market in Spanish, and the way to reach it is to have merchandise here,” says Carlos Alfredo, a civil engineer by training.
Selling in the U.S. differs greatly from Venezuela, the Soukis have learned. Clients in Coral Gables routinely check Amazon.com from the store to compare prices and availability before buying. Some also request home delivery for purchases – practices not common in Caracas, says Carlos Alfredo.
There’s a big underserved market in Spanish, and the way to reach it is to have merchandise here…
To compete, Altamira offers what’s likely the largest selection of Spanish-language books in the Miami area, hosts presentations by local authors and fulfills custom orders quickly, the Soukis say.
That ample variety – from children’s books to new fiction from Spain and Latin America – recently attracted Jean C. Ruiz, 34, a Venezuelan with degrees in law and business who works nearby. Ruiz, who is fluent in Spanish, French and English, was looking for works in Español, “because I don’t want to abandon my mother tongue. Books help me stay up-to-date with the language.”