Escaping into the fantasy world of a good book is always refreshing for book lovers. In the stressful and arduous aftermath of Katrina, Coast residents may especially enjoy a good read to take their mind off the mayhem of traffic and trash.
Many residents lost their personal libraries when their homes were damaged or destroyed by the hurricane. And there are few book outlets left on the Coast to shop for replacements.
It is obvious why stores like Pass Christian Books and Bookends Bookstore in Bay St. Louis, both destroyed by the hurricane, haven’t reopened. But one of the largest bookstores on the Coast, Barnes & Nobles in the Crossroads Shopping Center in Gulfport, still hasn’t reopened into early October even though there is no outside apparent damage to the store. Inquiries to the corporate office about whether the store would reopen were not answered prior to press time.
Mike Hutter, Spanish Trail Books in Biloxi, keeps up with what is going on in the book marketplace. He said some bookstores on the Coast were losing money even before the storm.
“They may be thinking about retrenching now,” Hutter said. “Reading habits have changed over the past five to 10 years. That may have something to do with general trends in the market. There are a lot of other things for people to do other than read books today.”
Hutter’s bookstore is located in an historic building in Vieux Marche, the downtown area of Biloxi. Hutter, a big proponent of historic preservation, said most of the older buildings in the Vieux Marche fared pretty well.
“We are on the highest part of the peninsula, so we didn’t have a storm surge,” Hutter said. “Our building and the others down here are about the same. They had some roof damage, and some blown out windows. Structurally a lot of the older buildings look pretty darn good, as a matter of fact. But south of us towards the beach, pretty much everything is gone.”
Spanish Trail Books, an antiquarian bookstore which sells general used books, and historic books, including a few 18th and 19th Century books, has been open erratic hours since the storm. They lost about $15,000 worth of books after roof damage let the rainwater in.
“But most of the books are okay,” Hutter said. “We have had a number of calls, including well wishers, but we don’t have too much traffic yet because the back parking lot is taken up by people serving the hospital. People who know where we are will find their way. Right now people are still more concerned with their basic needs.”
Still, Hutter well appreciates that books are more than physical assets to a lot of people.
“There is a lot of emotional and psychological substance in books for many people,” he said. “I think real book lovers find solace in reading, myself included.”
Hutter has sympathy for book sellers on the Coast who lost their businesses.
“I feel for the people who are not going to continue,” Hutter said. “That is the tragedy of it. For small independents, this is a tough business. There aren’t too many young people coming into the business.”
Susan Daigre, owner of Bookends Bookstore in Bay St. Louis, which was located close to the bay, said the future of her store depends on things like how soon she can rebuild her home, if there is a viable economy on the Gulf Coast, the support of the publishers and the insurance industry doing the right thing.
“To my wonderful customers who talked books and bought books and became friends, I will miss you all,” said Daigre, who had operated the store for 18 years. “Please continue to support your independent booksellers. Many of my ‘book people’ friends have called to wish me well and I thank you all. Everyone affected by Katrina needs your prayers.”
Down to the slab
Another Coast bookstore, Pass Christian Books, was reduced to a cement slab. Owner Scott Naugle hasn’t even been able to find any debris associated with his former store located in sight of the beach.
“Somewhere, there are about 10,000 books floating around,” Naugle said. “Internet sales were a portion of the bookstore’s business, and I hope to be active on the Internet again soon. I have about 2,000 books in storage that were not damaged and will load those on the Internet over the next few months. I also hope to take orders for new books over the store Web site (www.passchristianbooks.com).”
Naugle plans to rebuild, and isn’t going to forsake the beach in fear of future hurricane damage.
“Being on Highway 90, as well as being in Pass Christian, was of tremendous value due to the tourist traffic,” Naugle said. “We will rebuild as close to Highway 90 and the beach as is prudent. I can assure you it will be an elevated building probably of concrete construction. There are so many issues in Pass Christian right now. It is too difficult and soon to buy a lot right now without knowing how all those future planning and zoning issues are going to work out. But we will open again.”
Pass Christian Books was divided into about three equal parts: new, used and rare books. While he especially regrets the loss of some of the rare books that were unique and can’t be replaced, he feels it was a miracle that his home located near the beach in Pass Christian didn’t flood and received little damage.
“The destruction of the book store is a sad loss, but not substantial in the sense of life, limb or a roof over my head,” he said.
Naugle believes that undamaged book stores that haven’t reopened because of the economy are making a mistake.
“Yes, temporarily the economy is disrupted,” he said. “But you have to look to at the future. Closing is a shortsighted decision, but that means less competition for me in a few years.”
Book stores that have reopened are doing a booming business. Ladonna Mathis, manager, Waldenbooks, Singing River Mall, Gautier, said they were closed for a month after the storm.
“But we opened up and it is like Christmas time,” Mathis said. “A lot of customers are replacing books they lost in the hurricane. And some are buying because the cable television and other forms of entertainment aren’t available. Everything is selling. It is a huge variety. We have a lot of traffic from Biloxi coming through here now. The whole mall is busy. It isn’t just us.”
Edgewater Mall has been closed due to heavy hurricane damage. Mathis said she hasn’t been given a specific date yet about when the Waldenbooks store will reopen at Edgewater Mall.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at email@example.com.
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