BAY ST. LOUIS –Mississippi has a new bookstore added to its rich tapestry of independent bookstores. Bay Books opened a few weeks ago on Main Street in Old Town of Bay St. Louis. That’s no small undertaking in this hurricane-ravaged area struggling to rebuild.
“I wanted to be in Old Town and involved in the rebuilding in a hands-on way. There are a lot of different roles we feel right now as a local, independent bookstore, and it’s symbolic to be here on Main Street,” says the owner, Kay Gough. “Everybody is so glad we’re here. We’re putting our money and time here.”
Although she had some trepidation in starting a business at this time in this devastated place, Gough and husband, Ed, agree that Bay St. Louis is a good place to live and invest.
It’s the couple’s second tour of duty in the area and was their 13th move when they relocated to Diamondhead from Hawaii in 2003. Both are natives of Meridian and lived here 25 years ago. Ed is a physicist and technical director for the Navy’s oceanographic operation at Stennis Space Center. They’ve lived in five states and one foreign country, Italy.
“Bay St. Louis was really different when we were here before,” she said. “We found it more artsy and growing when we moved back.”
Kay Gough earned a communications degree from Mississippi University for Women and an MBA from the University of Southern Mississippi during her first stint in Hancock County. She has taught marketing and advertising, worked in advertising, corporate communications and business development, but opening Bay Books is her first venture as a business owner.
“This is different. I’m learning the book business in general,” she said. “It’s a steep learning curve and has to ramp up, but I decided to try it. I have never been involved in retail before.”
Several factors led to the decision to open a bookstore. The town’s only bookstore, Bookends, was completely destroyed by Katrina and owner Susan Daigre does not plan to reopen it.
Gough has always read and frequented bookstores everywhere she’s lived. The whole family reads and supported entering the book business. The Goughs’ son, Edward, is taking a break from his college studies as an English major and helping in the bookstore. Their other son, John, is studying architecture at Arizona State University.
“Susan (Daigre) has been extremely encouraging and helpful with Bay Books,” Gough said,” but she also sat me down and told me what to expect as an independent bookseller.”
The shop, located at 131 Main Street, is in a building that had approximately four feet of water dumped in it by Katrina.
It’s been rejuvenated into a warm, inviting interior with créme-colored walls, barn red floors and wooden shelves. The original pressed tin ceiling is intact. The colorful wall touches include oceanographic charts and maps from Ed Gough’s Navy career, including a map with pins indicating his numerous excursions to the Arctic.
“I’m very hopeful about Bay Books and I feel confident the town will continue to grow,” Gough said. “We have to work hard to let people know we’re alive and well here.”
She believes that can be done in spite of little foot traffic in the area and the street that ends when it runs into where Beach Boulevard used to be. It will be a couple of years before Beach Boulevard, destroyed by Katrina, is rebuilt.
There are currently no businesses operating on the beach. However, there are 12 businesses currently open in the two blocks of Main Street closest to the water. Those include a restaurant, Sycamore House, and a new coffee shop, Mockingbird Coffee. She says day trippers, along with local people and disaster volunteers, are coming back to shop in Old Town.
The bookstore opened on a weekend that one of Old Town’s popular Second Saturday events was happening, and had a big crowd. Gough will have events to create interest and bring in shoppers. That includes an open house for educators and visits to school libraries dressed as Geronimo Stilton in a costume on loan from Scholastic Press. One book club is meeting at Bay Books, too.
“We’re off to a good start,” Gough said. “We’re trying to find avenues and be their source.”
Book signings are also planned at the new bookstore. The first will be November 4 when Billy Mounger signs his memoir, “Amidst the Fray.” On November 18, Jim Frasier will be there with his picture book, “The Vanished Mississippi Gulf Coast,” and on December 8, local photographer Ken Murphy will sign “Mississippi” and his reprinted “My South Coast Home.”
“We have a lot of things planned before Christmas,” Gough said, “and that includes activities for the Arts Alive artists’ studio tour the weekend of November 11 and 12.”
John Brennan, owner of Maggie May’s Art Gallery, is pleased to have Bay Books open across the street from his business. “It’s important that we have ‘our bookstore’ open,” he said. “Folks are seeking us out. Without question, we’re a destination now. We’re an island. That bridge (across the bay) was our connection.”
But things are looking up and Brennan, whose shop opened in July on a small scale, is encouraged. “People are finding more than they expected here,” he said. “They’re coming to check on us.”
Gough says it may be too soon to know what specialty Bay Books will have but she is catering to local tastes, including fiction, southern authors, nonfiction, mystery, cookbooks, home remodeling and decorating books and children’s selections.
She is also relying on the great reputation of the state’s independent bookstores to get Bay Books off to a rousing start. She is a member of the American Booksellers Association and the Southern Independent Booksellers Association.
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.