Located at 100 N. Range Avenue in Denham Springs, Louisiana, Cavalier House Books focuses on investing in books that exemplify local culture, allow for freedom of expression and thought, and are sought after by local readers. Dzanc spoke with Michelle Cavalier, the owner and founder of Cavalier House Books.
Dzanc: What prompted your decision to open your own local bookstore?
Michelle: I’ve been a bookseller since I was seventeen years old and got my first job at Barnes and Noble. Reading is how I understand the world, and I cannot imagine who I would be without books. When Book Warehouse of Baton Rouge closed in 2005 (I was working there at the time), I realized the need for not only a new independent bookstore in our area, but a different kind of bookstore. I started Cavalier House Books with my husband, John, that summer. We sold books in bulk to schools and other institutions while we were in college and opened our bookstore in 2009 after graduating from Southeastern.
D: How did you first get interested in independent books?
M: I would say that my interest in independent books started with an interest in localism in general. I love small presses that focus on our region, especially the university presses like LSU Press and University Press of Mississippi.
D: It must be difficult to decide which books to place on your shelves, and which to pass up. What is the biggest factor in choosing what you stock?
M: Knowing my customers. I work closely with area teachers and librarians—we cater to schools, and these relationships are among the most important to my business.
D: Does Cavalier House have a vision? In other words, what types of books are most important to you, and what do you hope the stock of Cavalier House Books expresses to you customers?
M: We have a very specific vision that we sum up in three words: Knowledge, Organization, and Sharing. These words are the themes that guide us in all of our decision-making. My stock is diverse and it represents commonly held beliefs within my community, as well as worldviews and beliefs that go beyond those of my community and expand horizons. I hope that people see the stock of CHB and feel excited, comforted, and still challenged.
D: How do you balance supporting local authors while also giving the community what they want to read?
M: We have a consignment program for local self-published and micro press authors. We review each book first to make sure it meets quality standards. If a consignment title does not meet certain sales parameters, we let the author know and remove the book from our shelves.
D: What is your current personal favorite of the independent books on your shelves?
M: Probably Fragile Grounds by Jessica Schexnayder and Mary Manhein. This is a recent release about the important cultural role of cemeteries, and how in Louisiana we are losing much of our history through the loss of our cemeteries.
D: Do you have a favorite place inside of the store?
M: Our children’s section. We have lovely murals featuring beloved children’s book characters throughout and windows that let in plenty of light. It’s a happy space.
D: Why is it important, in your opinion, for book lovers to support independent booksellers?
M: Independent bookstores are bastions of free speech and shared knowledge. If we sacrifice that for the sake of a discount, we should really be assessing our priorities in life. Readers should support bookstores, especially independent ones (and libraries!—all of this applies to libraries too!), because as long as we are here, we will fight for freedom of information, freedom of choice, and freedom of expression. Also, there are some irresponsible business practices at corporate stores that cause inflated pricing—Amazon sells at a discount, so the publisher has to raise prices, and then extra books are sold for pennies as “remainders.”
Responsible independent booksellers, ordering the books they need and selling them at the retail price, are what is best for the industry as a whole.
D: How do you hope people will feel when stepping into your store?