A stroll through downtown Hammond, Louisiana gives way to a picturesque town full of one-way streets lined with brickface buildings. The green and gold signs on every corner show the town’s school spirit as patrons flood in and out of the unique shops and restaurants along the main strip—and then there are the bubbles.
Bayou Booksellers has—by far—the happiest storefront. The large wooden doors are propped open to welcome customers into the shop, and while chatter from inside the store fills the street, the infamous bubble machine at the store’s entrance churns away. Upon walking into the store, customers are transported into an atmosphere that can only be described as effervescently charming. The shelves are lined with Cajun cookbooks, literature on local wildlife, and a full corner of the store dedicated to children’s literature. There are fleur de lis tapestries and artwork that reflect the local flair along the walls and tables. Essentially, Bayou Booksellers is a dream come true for lovers of independent bookstores.
Amanda Adams, owner of Bayou Booksellers, sat down for an interview to discuss the importance of community within the independent bookstore scene.
Dzanc: This store has been around for over two decades. What was the inspiration for opening it?
Bayou Booksellers: My stepmother opened this store a little over twenty years ago. It was in a different location in the beginning. Even though we’ve moved, we’ve kept it within the community. Just like now, there was a demand for local artists and authors—maybe even more so then. That was one of the biggest reasons.
Dzanc: It initially started as more of a bookstore and has since morphed into a gift shop that houses the work of local artists and authors. What inspires you to keep the name?
Bayou Booksellers: Keeping the name draws people in. People see the name and expect a bookstore, but when they come in they get so much more. We have a ton of different gifts and other art, as well as a variety of books from local and independent authors.
Dzanc: Is there anything you look for specifically when bringing titles into the store? Or do authors come to you?
Bayou Booksellers: Usually the authors or artists come to me. Actually, we have a lot of first-time authors come into the store. I think that’s really based on community. There is a support system here that generates buzz for the author. Whether it’s through family, friends, or just the network within the local area, the authors know that we are able to support and promote them in a way that bigger companies may not be able to.
A lot of the first-time authors come in looking for advice on publicity. They want to know how to get their name out there and what to do. I do the best I can in letting them know what steps to take and how we can help. We will usually buy a few copies of the book, do a book signing, promote through Facebook—see how it goes. From there we’re able to sell and restock the titles.
Children’s books are a big part of the Louisiana book scene. We like to have a good selection of those in stock. There is a trend right now where people will get children’s books instead of cards for baby showers. So when customers come in, we want to make sure we have good-quality—hopefully local—books for those types of events. Not only books that look nice, but are also appropriate for the occasion.
Dzanc: Why is it important to feature local authors and artists in the store? Also, do you strive to give the store a quintessential Louisiana feel?
Bayou Booksellers: It’s important because it’s about your people. There is a close-knit community of support not only of artists and authors, but those looking for local art and literature. So, it’s important to maintain that sense of community and provide the items people are looking for.
We’re about to have a book signing for Beverly Quin Jones. She’s a local author based out of Amite. Her book A Dragonfly Will Do deals with death and the grieving process. It’s a beautiful book. We have a few more signings for other local authors set up as well. It allows people in the community to not only learn more about the book, but also discover more about the author and socialize with others interested in the arts community.
Making the store feel local and feel very Louisiana is important. It brings people home. People come from all over to the store. I try to keep track of where customers are visiting from—how they discovered us. From June of 2016 until May of this year, people from thirty-five states and fourteen countries shopped with us. Having local books and local artists allows people to understand Louisiana a bit more. It gives the people that have never been here a taste of what this town, this state, has to offer. And for those that are coming back home, a sense of nostalgia.
Dzanc: You can definitely feel that as soon as you walk into the store. The store seems very personal and very much a part of the culture. In what way is community involvement important to you? Are there any special events that you host or would like to host in the future?
Bayou Booksellers: It starts local. It starts with the local authors and the small artists. Then it expands from there. Community involvement is so important, not just to an independent bookstore, but to a local business in general. We are involved with the local school systems. Bayou Booksellers makes sure to have the reading lists every year for the schools. Some titles may be difficult to find, so we try to make it as easy as possible for the parents to find what they’re looking for. That way, we’re not only able to work with the school system, but parents are able to discover the store and support the community. We also work with different organizations within the community during special events. Of course there is Hammond’s Hot August Nights. We like to feature authors and artists in and around the store for the event. Local involvement like that is so important because it exposes residents to the bookstore and to the world of art and literature that’s being created around them.
In the future, we’d like to do more book signings and feature local artists within the store to demonstrate their work in real time.
Bayou Booksellers is located at 201-A W Thomas St., Hammond, LA 70401. For more information visit Bayou Booksellers on Facebook.