HomeLearning CenterBook Bans Are Surging in Florida. So Lauren Groff Opened a Bookstore.

Book Bans Are Surging in Florida. So Lauren Groff Opened a Bookstore.

Originally published by Alexandra Alter for the New York Times

On a recent Sunday, Lauren Groff got out of bed at three in the morning, jolted by a mix of anxiety and adrenaline.

It was opening day for The Lynx, Groff’s new bookstore in Gainesville, Fla., and her mind raced with all that could go wrong. So she drove over to the store, where she felt reassured by the presence of some 7,000 books, a collection she had helped to curate.

“I like being there alone, because I’m surrounded by all of my friends,” Groff, a best-selling novelist and three-time National Book Award finalist, said of the books.

A few hours later, she was no longer alone: By 10 a.m., about 100 people had lined up outside the store to watch as Groff cut the ribbon. More than 3,000 people showed up throughout the day for a series of author readings, folk music, live poetry composition and, of course, to buy books.

Groff and her husband, Clay Kallman, had toyed with the idea of opening a bookstore in Gainesville for more than a decade, but the timing never felt right. Groff’s writing career was taking off, and they had two young sons. But last year, as book bans surged across Florida, they decided that their town needed an independent bookstore where titles that had been purged from libraries and classrooms would be on prominent display.

“This store would probably still be a pipe dream if the book bans hadn’t happened,” said Groff, who has lived in Gainesville since 2006. “I want this for me too. I don’t want to live in a place where we stifle free expression.”

Last fall, they found an old building, a 2,300-square-foot former hair salon, on South Main Street in downtown Gainesville. They transformed it into a bookstore and event space, with a cozy reading nook in the children’s book section, a small cafe and large rolling display tables that can be wheeled away to make way for chairs.

For the front of the building, they commissioned a 60-foot-long mural of a lynx, a wildcat native to Florida, sitting sphynx-like next to the store’s motto: “Watch Us Bite Back.”

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