Author & Photo credits: Beth Pollock
Worth Ave, in Palm Beach, Florida, is one of the most exclusive shopping areas in the U.S, on par with Rodeo Drive and Fifth Avenue. If you’re in the market for fashion, jewelry or art, you’ll find your passion on this four-block palm-lined street.
For me, the highlight of Worth Ave. was a visit to Raptis Rare Books. If you love books and the people who sell them, you’ll adore this store that has as much in common with a museum as it does the boutiques that surround it.
Owner Matthew Raptis opened his Palm Beach location after 18 years as a catalogue business in Vermont. “We wanted face-to-face encounters with our customers that you get from having a storefront,” he says. “It’s not just about selling books, it’s about the experience of helping someone discover a book they love.” He enjoys meeting both the shoppers and the browsers. “It’s self-selection,” he adds. “Only the people who really love books make their way into the shop as they walk along Worth Ave. I have interesting conversations with my customers every day.”
The collection includes first edition copies of the Nuremberg Chronicle, valued at $75,000 (all prices in USD), and Andreas Vesalius’s influential book on anatomy, De humani corporis fabrica ($125,000). If you’re looking for something a little less expensive, you’ll find signed first editions of Moby Dick, To Kill a Mockingbird, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Raptis’s favourite book is a rare copy of Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, valued at $150,000. He’s also fond of a first English-language edition of Aristotle’s A Treatise on Government. If I could put one of his books on my wish list, it would be a signed first edition of The Great Gatsby. (Alas, at $92,000, it’s a little out of my range.)
I asked him who his customers are. “Sometimes universities and museums buy from me,” he said, “but ninety percent of my business is for personal collections.”
His selection of framed, signed photos in the store is as intriguing as the books. A signed photograph of Winston Churchill smoking a cigar, framed along with the cigar’s remains, is truly one-of-a-kind. And there’s a fab photo of the Beatles, signed by all four of them.
It’s the everyday interactions that Raptis enjoys the most. One of his favourite customers was a woman who had grown up in Memphis. She browsed around the store, stopping in front of a photo of Martin Luther King, Jr, framed with a letter signed by him. She shared stories about her memories of King and how he had inspired her. On her way out of the store, she gave Raptis a big hug. “You made my trip!” she said.
After I left the store, I walked the length of Worth Avenue. Even if you’re not a shopper, it’s worth a visit simply to admire the architecture, and the many flowers and palm trees. The lovely courtyards and covered walkways make it a perfect place to stroll, and abundant bougainvillea drapes the European-style buildings in warmth.
At the far end of Worth Avenue is a clock tower overlooking the Atlantic. I stood under the tower and admired the ocean, languid blue and glistening in the early morning sun. It was a perfect place to contemplate books, and beauty, and life.
“There you stand, lost in the infinite series of the sea, with nothing ruffled but the waves.”
- Herman Melville, Moby Dick
226 Worth Ave.
Palm Beach, Florida