Pass Christian — Two Pennsylvania natives have opened a bookstore that’s gaining a reputation for its exceptional Mississippi Room. As bookstores go, Pass Christian Books is a baby. It opened two years ago and is evolving into the independent bookstore it wants to become, creating its own niché.
Owners Rich Daley and Scott Naugle say they’ve had a wonderful response from the residents of this charming town and the surrounding area. The bookstore opened in the old Avalon Theatre building on Scenic Drive then moved to its present location on U.S. 90 eight months ago.
“It seemed like the right time to open a bookstore in January of 2003 and we jumped on board,” Daley said.
With a degree in biotechnology, he worked in healthcare administration and chose not to move when the company left the state. Now he’s the day-to-day manager of the bookstore.
Naugle, who’s an executive vice president with Stewart Sneed Hewes BancorpSouth Insurance, said, “I can’t give any logical answers as to why we opened a bookstore. I’m not overly naïve. I’ve been around bookstores and in business and I know it’s tough.”
He says he felt strongly that the area could support a bookstore as he thought of all the little towns in the Northeast that have them. He was advised by the owner of Faulkner House Books in New Orleans to specialize and go deep within that specialty.
For Pass Christian Books, that specialty is the works of Mississippians. The shop’s Mississippi Room is a warm, inviting haven of books written by, about and for Mississippians. It’s impossible to imagine it had a former life as a chiropractor’s office. The ceilings are stained wood. Front windows overlook the Pass Christian Harbor with sunshine reflected off the back mirrored wall. An Oriental rug and armchairs in shades of rich red invite browsers to sit and peruse the books of their choice. Black and white photographs of Mississippi writers form a border above shelves that contain books of fiction, nonfiction, art, history, memoirs, journals and other writings.
“It’s a work in progress,” Rich says of the popular room. “We want it to look like a library and want it to be comfortable.”
He said a customer told him she got good vibes from the room and suggested the addition of easy-to-grow green plants — a suggestion he plans to enact.
Naugle says the Mississippi Room does well for the bookstore. “It’s all about creating a niché and following through with it,” he said. “If we had opened our doors with only books from The New York Times best sellers list that would have defeated the purpose. By the time something gets on that list, the wave has probably passed.”
There’s a constant search for books. He says that although it may be difficult, they get a lot of satisfaction from sticking with their plan. They listen to readers and get the books they want. They also spend a lot of time with publishers’ lists, including university presses, and also visit Web sites.
“You’d be surprised what you can find at the Oklahoma University Press for example,” Daley said, “and the University Press of Mississippi is the largest publisher’s relationship we have. Dealing with them is very nice.”
Naugle says they’re getting a sense of what their clientele will like and gaining a reputation for quality new fiction. “You don’t know if you don’t try and people appreciate that here,” he said. “We don’t treat books as a commodity like chain stores do.”
He adds that sometimes they order an obscure book but someone comes in and wants it. He feels that’s a reflection of the eclectic Pass Christian community. “We have fishermen come in off shrimp boats and people driving Hummers, wearing silk shirts,” he said. “It’s a diverse clientele.”
The store has easy to find sections that include Russian and British works and Southern history. Customers tell them they like the way the store is organized.
“We don’t have illusions. It will be years before we realize a profit,” Naugle said. “Things are going well, but we can’t coast. Managing the cash flow is critical and I have an idea that’s what puts some independent bookstores out of business.”
The two owners stay in touch with other independent bookstores in the state, noting that all are friends.
Pass Christian Books realizes the importance of book signings and frequently has them. None are scheduled for February because the store is re-stocking after the holidays. Six signings will be held in March.
“I enjoy them but you never know how they’ll go,” Daley said. “It’s frustrating when you believe in a book and there’s not much of a turnout. But sometimes, we sell more after the signings.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.