Books are back on South Padre Island.
Since Paragraphs Books closed its doors early last year there’s been no place on the Island to buy the things until a few days ago, when business partners Will Everett and Roin Khurami flipped the switch on Karma Coffee and Books at 2500 Padre Blvd. The same entrepreneurs are behind Cafe Karma, or “Karma One” as Everett calls it, which opened on the Island’s north side in the summer of 2017.
Revenues from that business have doubled each year — even during the pandemic, he said. Then earlier this year a prime piece of Island real estate, formerly occupied by Captain Donut, became available for lease. The new owners had it gutted and renovated, leaving a pristine, blank canvas, said Everett, an Island resident.
“That’s when the vision started,” he said. “It was configured just right to have a bookstore in front and cafe in back. The location just screamed coffee and books.”
In fact, Everett had been thinking about a bookstore since Paragraphs owners Griff Mangan and Joni Montover decided to retire, he said.
“I really wanted to pick up the baton from Joni and Griff,” Everett said. “There just aren’t that many good commercial locations here and this was highly prized property. This intersection, Amberjack and Padre, I would call it ground zero, the very hub of the entertainment district.”
Several would-be tenants, including drinking establishments and golf-cart-rental companies, pitched ideas for the property but the owners were particular. Everett’s vision for “cafe and culture” won out. Things moved fast. Everett submitted his proposal June 1 and Karma Coffee and Books launched with a soft opening on Sept. 5.
The 2,500-square-foot space features a modest book section of about 2,500 new fiction and nonfiction, paperback and hardback titles, while the rest is devoted to food-prep and kitchen space and seating, Everett said. Karma Coffee and Books doesn’t order books for customers, but rather directs them to Amazon, which is far more competitive in terms of pricing and availability. The store stocks new and recent releases but not necessarily all the latest best-sellers. Everett said he’s shooting for something different with the shop.
“This is a curated collection, and so what you’re paying for is the experience of discovering something you may not have known existed,” he said.
The target clientele includes Island visitors looking for a beach read as well as “kids who need to shut up and read.”
“I would say it’s pretty eclectic,” Everett said. “We’re not going for the lowest common denominator or middle of the road. To a large extent these are books that I would want to read. As a reader, I feel like I have the authority to put books out here that I know are good. Now there are a lot of books that are good that I don’t like, and they’re here too.”
More than half the inventory is fiction, since a lot of people just want a good story to sink into at the beach so they can forget about the world, he said. Everett said he hopes customers are willing to pay a little more to discover books they didn’t know they’d love once they found them.
“I think we’ve got a really good collection of stuff,” he said.
Like Cafe Karma, Karma Coffee and Books features a full line of specialty espresso drinks, breakfast sandwiches cooked to order, and muffins and sweet delectables baked on site — none of it prepackaged, Everett said. Visitors to the shop will find oriental rugs, good art on the walls and, yes, the opportunity to purchase boba tea. Hanging in the front windows are two custom-made, stained-glass panels, one depicting a steaming cup of coffee and the other a stack of, well, you know.
“It’s just the little touches,” Everett said. “They’re expensive, but you pay for them once and then you never have to pay for them again.”
Neither of the Karmas would have happened without Khurami, who Everett met while living in Afghanistan and helped get to the United States to seek asylum.
“I couldn’t do it without him,” Everett said. “I wouldn’t want to do it without him. This kid came here five years ago with nothing, and now he has two properties that he owns, has a share in a business that’s thriving. Talk about a poster child for the American dream.”
Khurami has been waiting five years so far for an asylum hearing, and if the government ultimately allows him to stay it will take another year or two to get a green card, then another five years to apply for citizenship, Everett said.
“It’s so long, but he’s making good use of his time,” he said.
The opening of Karma Coffee and Books brings the total number of non-religious, non-college/university affiliated bookstores selling new books in Cameron County to two. Unruly Cactus Books and Coffee opened in Port Isabel in July.
Everett said the Island could use more of the ABCs — art, books, culture — as opposed to just more places to buy alcohol or rent golf carts. Other places do it, he said, recalling a visit last year to Oregon.
“A friend of mine said come check out Cannon Beach,” Everett said. “We went to Cannon Beach and that little beach community had three bookstores. … Why don’t we have that on the Island? I mean, I know it’s a different demographic. They have more money up there. But it’s another tourist-based economy. People who come here are pretty much of the same stripe who go to Cannon Beach. Families, kids, parents — people with a little disposable income.”