Mississippi Gulf Coast — In spite of all that residents here have lost, they have not lost their love of books and reading. Three independent bookstores continue to sell books and hold author signings with two of them opening brick-and-mortar shops soon.
Lynn Roberts has her fingers crossed that her Calico’s House of Books in Diamondhead will re-open in May. “At first it was finding workers I can trust. Now, it’s a matter of getting materials,” she said.
Roberts’ bookstore will be the only bookstore open in Hancock County as well as the only one west of Edgewater Mall in Biloxi. According to Roberts, Susan Daigre, owner of Bookends in Bay St. Louis, is currently selling modular homes and doesn’t plan to reopen the bookstore for two years. The charming old home that housed Bookends was completely destroyed.
Veteran bookseller Marilyn Lunceford of Ocean Springs is currently selling books and launching a literary adventure for the Mary C. O’Keefe Cultural Center as she prepares to open Favorites Book Nook later this month. Closed before the hurricane, Lunceford’s Favorites Books was located on Government Street for several years. Favorites Book Nook will occupy a small area in an existing retail shop, Gina’s Washington Avenue Marketplace in downtown Ocean Springs.
“I feel strongly that people lost so much with the storm, including their libraries, and now there seems to be a different mindset,” Lunceford said. “I think there will be less competition for independent stores as people want to rebuild and keep taxes at home. I’m giving it a shot but not in a big way like I did before.”
She hopes to make Mississippi writers better known to visitors to Ocean Springs. She is also passionate about helping residents rebuild lost libraries by special ordering books. “If they know the name of the book, I will do a search and find it for them,” she said.
Pass Christian Books owner Scott Naugle reminds area residents that his shop was more than walls, shelves and a cash register. “Pass Christian Books is a place to discuss ideas, forge friendships, recommend and exchange thoughts about books and to share the joy of a recent reading experience,” he says. “It is a place for the meeting of minds.”
The physical shop was located near the Pass Christian Harbor and was completely destroyed. Since mid-October, Naugle and store manager Richard Daley have sold books on the store’s Web site and held numerous book signings. Most of the signings have been held at the Holiday Inn Airport in Gulfport because that’s a central location for the remaining Coast population. Naugle says all the signings, including the most recent for U.S. Sen. Trent Lott’s book, “Herding Cats,” have been well attended.
“I think it’s important to keep our name in front of everyone and signings can be held anywhere,” he said. “Some of these were already in the works before the storm and all the publishers want to work with us.”
In addition to the books to be signed, Naugle and Daley take other books for sale at the signings. Naugle says a room at his house looks like a bookstore. They also mail books to customers almost daily.
“We will probably do 40% or 50% of the revenue we would have done in a normal year even though a lot of our customers are gone,” he said. “We don’t know how to budget or plan but take it as it comes.”
Even better than the sales, Naugle says it’s great seeing everyone at the book signings. “People come from all over,” he said. “It’s been so encouraging to see how well our customers are doing, all things considered.”
He says they will rebuild the physical store as soon as possible, hoping to be in downtown Pass Christian but farther away from the harbor. “There is a lot of property for sale but it’s too soon to make a decision. Issues such as flood elevations and zoning must be resolved,” he said. “But, we absolutely will rebuild and the name will remain the same.”
Even before Calico’s House of Books reopens the physical store in Diamondhead, Roberts has ordered books for customers and puts out baskets and stands of $1 paperbacks. “I wanted to make sure there’s something cheap to read,” she said. “People who are leaving the area are donating a lot of paperbacks.”
While book ordering is slow, she thinks sales will pick up as time goes by. “Right now people have other concerns,” she said. “Replacing lost items is still emotional, and there’s the fear factor of another hurricane and there’s no room in FEMA trailers for a lot of books.”
She recalls a couple who came in to order some of the wife’s lost cookbooks but halted the process when the lady became overwhelmed with emotion.
Still, Roberts remains optimistic and says most of the 20 independent booksellers she saw at a regional meeting in New Orleans in March have the same outlook. “We know we’re never going to get rich in a bookstore but most want to get back in it,” she said.
Roberts will celebrate her reopening with a May 7 book signing with Coast photographer Timothy T. Isbell’s books about the Civil War.
If the building is not ready, the book signing will be held under a tent. Other signings of area authors are planned, too.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.