Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Louisiana Bookselling

by Edward Nawotka -- Publishers Weekly, 4/30/2007

Hurricane Katrina did little to dampen Louisiana's enthusiasm for reading. With a total of 177 booksellers spread across the state—including 10 Books-a-Million outlets, nine Barnes & Nobles, six Borders, 98 Wal-Marts and more than 40 independents—book buyers have plenty of options.

Despite a reduction in population from 450,000 to 250,000, New Orleans remains at the heart of bookselling in the state. The city boasts a handful of highly regarded independent stores, including the Garden District Book Shop, Octavia Books, the Maple Street Book Shop (famous for its “Fight the Stupids” bumper stickers), and a variety of antiquarian and used stores. A new store, Beth's Books, opened in the vibrant Bywater arts community in 2006.

Faulkner House Bookstore, a tiny shop located in the French Quarter, specializes in new fiction and signed first editions. The owners, Joe DeSalvo Jr. and Rosemary James, report that the drop in tourism hit their sales hard, reducing it to 10% of previous levels in the months after the storm.

Joseph Billingsley, sales manager for New Orleans–based Pelican Publishing, remains optimistic. “I think it's safe to say that there are some post-hurricane changes,” he said. “The distinctions from bookselling in New Orleans and the rest of the state are more sharply drawn. The stores that cater to the tourist market suffered, but now the tourists have started to come back at 75% to 80% of their pre-Katrina level, so that, too, is changing.”

Remarkably, the Garden District Book Shop and Octavia Books, both of which are in residential neighborhoods and cater primarily to locals, reopened within six weeks of the storm. They both report booming business, in part due to tremendous interest in Katrina-related titles.

Britton Trice, owner of the Garden District Book Shop, said, “Our store has been doing great, bounced back remarkably quick. We're at a level equal and greater than before.” Tom Lowenberg of Octavia Books said sales at his store have increased in each of his six years in business—including 2005, the year of Katrina.

The flooding in New Orleans led to the closure of three independents: Beaucoup Books, formerly on Magazine Street, and two locations of the Afro-American Book Stop, one of which was in a shopping mall connected to the Superdome. Michele Lewis, owner of Afro-American Book Stop, continues to sell online and hopes to open a new storefront sometime this year. The Community Book Center, another African-American bookstore, was also flooded, but moved to a new location.

Of the chain stores, Barnes & Noble's Metairie superstore was worst hit by Katrina. That store remained closed for eight months, until its gala reopening in March 2006, an event New Orleans Times-Picayunebook editor Susan Larson told PW was “like Mardi Gras.”

“People were so happy to have a place to go, it was just wonderful to see,” she said, adding, “The booksellers here have a strong sense of the greater good. There's a renewed spirit of cooperation there. They're activists on behalf their own survival. “

In addition to using the reopening of its Metairie location to raise money for the Jefferson Parish Library, Barnes & Noble showed early support for post-Katrina Louisiana by announcing plans to open a new store in the capital, Baton Rouge, just weeks after the disaster.

Elsewhere in Louisiana, destination booksellers thrive. These include Author's Alley in Deridder, near the Texas border; the Book Merchant in Natchitoches in the northwest corner of the state; and Paddy's Book Nook in Gueydan, deep in the heart of Cajun country. The best known of all is Windows a Bookshop in Monroe—a result of its regionally syndicated radio talk show, The Book Report, which helps attract touring authors to remote northeast Louisiana.

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