POSTED Mon. Aug 26, 2013
Meet your neighbors: Maple Street Book Shop
Paul Oswell
Written by PAUL OSWELL
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I have to say that, browsing the shelves between the colorful kids’ room and the section dedicated to local cuisine, I don’t much feel like I’m standing in a former hotbed of revolution.

Gladin Scott, though, is regaling me with stories to the contrary with a definite gleam in his eye. “Let me tell you,” he says, “I used to cycle here every weekend from the suburbs when I was young. This was one of the few places you could buy the counter-culture publications.” A pause. “You know…the left wing propaganda.”

Scott is the current owner of Maple Street Book Shop, and although I don’t get the sense he’s running an underground chapter of the Communist Revolutionary Party out of the premises, there’s a glint about him that suggests he has tales to tell beyond the avuncular bookseller persona that greets each person through the door.

Maple Street Book Shop – it’s actually two shops, but we’ll get to that – has been continually operational in one sense or another on these very premises since 1964, when sisters Mary Kellogg and Rhoda Norman opened their infamous “Five Rooms of Paperbacks”.

You can read local histories of how the place was a haven for free thinkers in a conservative neighborhood, the turtleneck-clad and beer-fuelled political debates taking place after hours on the back porch that now leads off the travel section. Take a look at the full history on the shop’s website – those were some salty, well-informed and consummately New Orleanian ladies, and no mistake.

After several incarnations and switching up the functions of the two neighboring buildings, the shop now belongs to Scott, a long time employee and, of course, customer. “In those days,” he tells me as he shows me around, “We would hit up all three of the independent book shops in town. They all reflected the interests of their owners and I like to think this one does as well. Literary fiction. Regional interest. Left of center politics.”

Ah, maybe he’s still a firebrand after all. The two stores now, though – new and as good as new in the main building, used in the annex – cater to a mix of customers. “You know, locals with an interest in their city, English professors, Tulane and Loyola students, neighborhood people, lots of young kids these days. Anyone who just likes browsing, really.”

It’s this last selling point that Scott sees as the reason the store has flourished despite the dominance of the huge internet retailers. “I mean, there are constantly fresh challenges, but these people love to browse, hold the books in their hands and talk to us,” he says.

The store is currently in transition, absorbing the stock from a couple of satellite branches that didn’t work out. The Maple Street location seems as solid as it has been throughout those last 50 years, though. Even on a Monday afternoon, there’s a healthy amount of people nosing through the wooden shelves, sitting and reading local histories and saying hi to Gladin and long time colleague Cindy Dike.

Scott is enamored with the neighborhood, and loves being part of Maple Street (like, the actual street). “It’s a very supportive collection of retailers we have up here,” he says. “The sheer variety of businesses here is what brings people I think. There’s ladies outfitters, pastry shops, not to mention all the restaurants and coffee shops we have. We like to try them all of course.” Scott is particularly excited about the new Vietnamese spot that’s opened down the road, “Ba Chi Canteen (Editor’s note: so are we).

The children’s book room takes up an impressive amount of space, and Scott says that in terms of units sold, this is the biggest area of the business, which has to be an encouraging sign in the face of video game zombie-dom. “We do a huge amount of out of print and special order business too,” says Scott, again with that gleam that suggests he’s socking it to those faceless, online corporate giants.

“That’s also why I wanted to build the used books side of things,” he says. The used book building next door is smaller but so enthusiastically packed with volumes that you need the help of the young, knowledgeably assistants to navigate it.

“Against the Amazons of this world, we’re limited in what we can do with new releases, so used books are our most helpful ally. Like I say, people who come here want to browse and chat and we want to make it as interactive and interesting as we can.”

And with that, almost to order, Scott is saying hello to another customer and disappearing into the stacks. The revolution going on here may be a quiet one, but in terms of fighting the good fight for personal service and a passion for what they do, it’s as important as any that the young coterie on that back porch in 1964 might have drunkenly toasted to.

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    The Arts Council of New Orleans

    The Arts Council of New Orleans is a private, non-profit organization designated as the City’s official arts agency. The Arts Council serves as one of eight regional distributing agencies for state arts funds and administers available municipal arts grants and the Percent For Art program for the City of New Orleans. The Arts Council works in partnership with the City of New Orleans, community groups, local, state, and national governmental agencies, and other nonprofit arts organizations to meet the arts and cultural needs of the New Orleans community through a diversity of initiatives and services.

    WWNO

    WWNO, the NPR member station for New Orleans, serves southeast Louisiana and parts of southwest Mississippi by broadcasting balanced news, thought provoking analysis, classical music, jazz and other musical styles, intelligent entertainment, and unique local content. We broadcast on 89.9 FM, and KTLN 90.5 FM in the Houma-Thibodaux area as a public service of the University of New Orleans. All of WWNO’s programs, including its growing local news coverage, are available online at WWNO.org.

    WWOZ

    WWOZ 90.7 FM is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Station offering listener-supported, volunteer-programmed community radio. WWOZ covers many events live in and around the city and across the United States, and broadcasts live from the famed New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival annually. WWOZ’s mission is to be the worldwide voice, archive, and flag-bearer of New Orleans culture and musical heritage.

    PRC

    Preservation Resource Center (PRC) has been preserving, restoring, and revitalizing New Orleans’ historic architecture and neighborhoods since 1974. Throughout its history, PRC has acted as an advocacy agent on a local, regional, and national scale, spreading the word about the city’s rich architectural heritage and the economic importance of preserving this heritage. PRC also takes a hands-on approach to preservation, with a history of successfully restoring over 1,400 properties. The center strengthens and revitalizes New Orleans in a way that is forward-looking and sustainable, yet sensitive to the city’s past and its heritage.

    NOMA

    As a nexus for the arts in New Orleans, NOMA is committed to preserving, interpreting, and enriching its collections and renowned sculpture garden; offering innovative experiences for learning and interpretation; and uniting, inspiring, and engaging diverse communities and cultures.

    The Historic New Orleans Collection

    The Historic New Orleans Collection (THNOC) is a museum, research center, and publisher dedicated to preserving the history and culture of New Orleans and the Gulf South. Its holdings comprise more than one million items from more than three centuries, documenting moments both major and minor. Its four exhibition spaces–the Williams Gallery, the Louisiana History Galleries, the Boyd Cruise Gallery, and the Laura Simon Nelson Galleries for Louisiana Art–faithfully depict the multicultural stories of the region, from permanent displays exploring the evolution of Louisiana to rotating exhibitions showcasing history and fine art.

    Southern Food

    The Southern Food and Beverage Museum is a nonprofit living history organization dedicated to the discovery, understanding and celebration of the food, drink and the related culture of the South. While based in New Orleans, the Museum examines and celebrates all the cultures that have come together through the centuries to create the South’s unique culinary heritage. The Museum is also home to the collections of the Museum of the American Cocktail, the Galerie d’Absinthe, and a demonstration kitchen.

    Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities

    The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing educational opportunities to all Louisianans.

    The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities’ mission is to provide all Louisianans with access to and an appreciation of their own rich, shared and diverse historical, literary and cultural heritage through grant-supported outreach programs, family literacy and adult reading initiatives, teacher professional development institutes, publications, film and radio documentaries, museum exhibitions, cultural tourism, public lectures, library projects, and other public humanities programming.

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