The first book I wrote was published in 1973 – a year after I graduated from high school. The book shop community in New Orleans was very different back then. Book shops were everywhere. I don’t mean a handful of used book stores. I mean sellers of newly published books – the popular, new books as well as local or specialty books. The vast majority were mom and pop shops – small/medium in size, but where you would go to find interesting books.
Over the years, the economy took its toll on small businesses of all kinds. One by one the small book shops in New Orleans either closed up or were gobbled up by the larger shops. Today, Barnes & Noble is the monster shop and most all other book shops (save a few used book sellers) have gone away. It happened because of business practices and the result of the poor economy. Small book shops bought stock at wholesale from book distributors or publishers and resold at retail. Their business was operated on the profit from the reselling of the books they bought at wholesale. As the small shops did not have the volume of business of the large shops, their profit was like a piece of glass – able to be broken if it took too hard of a hit. The death blow was often delivered by the large shops who (because of their larger volume of business) could offer the more popular books at a discount the small shops could not match. The large shops were willing and able to take the losses in these profit areas because they would make up the lost profits with the other books they sold that were not discounted. It is simply the leverage a larger shop can exert. When a small shop reached the point of no return, it either closed up or (if it was a popular enough shop) was bought out by a larger shop. Finally, New Orleans was left with two large shops: Barnes & Noble and Borders. Not long ago, Borders fell and now we have one.
One type of specialty book shop that could be found in most parts of New Orleans was metaphysical book shops. I remember the popular Golden Leaves book shop when it first opened off Airline Hwy. and then moved off Severn in Fat City. It was a great place for the more esoterically inclined, but there were other such shops as well. They were more than book shops. They were centers where you could find like-minded people to share ideas with and enjoy discussions on spiritual subjects. They often held group meetings or lectures in the shops on different esoteric subjects. They were not only sellers of books, but educational centers. It was great. They are all gone now.
I started publishing books in 1995. In the very early days, I only published books dealing with Freemasonry. In time, the titles expanded into more metaphysical, Rosicrucian and other esoteric subjects. As the catalog grew, contemporary literature was added and then a very different area – pulp fiction joined the collection of books. With our move back to New Orleans, the final part of our catalog, local New Orleans and Louisiana books (reprints of local classics) filled out our main catalog.
A few years ago I realized that Cornerstone had grown into a large catalog. That, along with the fact that there was a need in the New Orleans area for a specialty book shop, put an idea in my head. The seeds of a small retail shop were planted. But, I wanted to take my time as I knew that I would be going up against one monster of a large book seller who could buy and sell me many times over. I knew that there was no way to compete unless I simply did what I did best – sell the books published by Cornerstone. Whenever I did any sort of book fair, the books sold like hot cakes so I knew there was a market. But, a physical store was a different animal. I wanted the right location and did not want to settle.
So, what area? There were a number of areas that we considered, but each just did not suit us for this or that reason. One day, my wife (the beautiful and extraordinary talented author, Evelyn Klebert) and I were riding down Canal Blvd. in the Lakeview area and passed a favorite old haunt of ours – the old Plantation Coffee House. Like so many other places, it is gone now, but how we use to enjoy the atmosphere there. Just passing by the building brought back great memories. It was a gathering of artists who came to enjoy the coffee and soak up the vibes of all who sat near them. We wanted to be somewhere in that area.
After studying the area, we narrowed it down even further. Hurricane Katrina had devastated the Lakeview area. The 17th Street Canal broke there and the whole area was flooded. To this day, you can still find many homes and businesses that are only abandoned shells, victims of the flood and with no sign of pending return. But, there was Harrison Ave. It is one of the main arteries of Lakeview running from the 17th Street Canal to City Park. Just driving down the street, you can see the new businesses that have popped up over the last few years. The once popular Robert E. Smith public library on Harrison and Canal is rebuilt and back open. It feels like a center of art once again. We picked Harrison Ave.
Not too long ago, we decided to make a jump. I posted a short note on Facebook saying that we were thinking of opening a book shop and were looking at the Lakeview and Harrison area. We asked if anyone knew of any space available for a book shop. My friend Dave Krasner gave me a yell. Dave owns Expetec Technology Services and he told me that he had just bought an old bank building on the corner of Harrison and Fleur de Lis and could use a tenant. We got together and everything worked out. The area is perfect and the building is just what is needed for both businesses. The building needs some work, but not much and we expect to have both businesses opened by mid November (+/-).
So, Cornerstone Book Publishers will now not only be a book publisher, but will be a book shop and, hopefully, a center for Masonic/esoteric education. Make no mistake, we are a small guy and can’t hope to compete with the sparkle, countless number of books or fine displays of a Barnes & Noble. But, we have books that are of quality and can provide what is wanted and needed. We didn’t make the New York Times Bestsellers list by publishing garbage. We have a proven track record and are one of the top book sellers in the Amazon Masonic and Esoteric lists. We will stock Cornerstone titles and can order most any book available through the normal distributors. And yes, if all goes well, we do have plans to grow. 🙂
More to come on opening dates.
Michael R. Poll