The fight against “the stupids” isn’t over yet.
The Maple Street Book Shop, the renowned Uptown independent bookstore that has been a destination for New Orleanians and tourists for nearly 52 years, will stay open at least until March, its owner announced Sunday — nearly three months after he said it would have to close its doors at the end of 2015.
Owner Gladin Scott, who bought the business in 2013, credited the “overwhelming” support of loyal customers, a landlord willing to accept month-to-month rent payments and even people interested in investing in the business.
“We announced we were closing the first of October, and the response was wonderful,” Scott said Sunday afternoon as he greeted customers who steadily trickled into the shotgun cottage where books have been sold for half a century. “Our business literally doubled in October, and it’s remained strong in November and December.”
Scott cautioned, though, that the business is still in a precarious position. He said he couldn’t commit to staying open longer than the first quarter of 2016 and can keep selling books only as long as sales are good.
Prior to October, the store had been operating at a loss since 2007, and Scott said then he wouldn’t be able to pour any more money into the venture.
“I’m not in a financial position to make any promises,” he warned. “Sales have to be good enough to at least break even.”
The bookstore has seen many ups and downs in the past several years. In 2011, then-owner Donna Allen opened new locations in the Marigny and Bayou St. John neighborhoods.
Two years later, Scott bought the bookstore after managing it for five years. He closed the two satellite stores and moved the used and rare books into the main store, just four years after a separate Maple Street children’s bookstore had closed.
In October, Scott said he had little choice but to focus on the main shop because the other locations weren’t self-sustaining.
There isn’t just one reason why the shop has been hit so hard, he said, but he did credit online shopping for part of the demise.
Even customers at the store Sunday said most readers, including kids, have grown accustomed to ordering books on Amazon and perusing them on e-readers like Kindle or even on iPhones.
It’s a habit that threatens to kill the art of book-shopping, said Deanna Larmeu, a 35-year-old art teacher.
“It’s important to be able to touch and smell the books, rather than just look at them on phones,” Larmeu said as she shopped at the bookstore for friends and family, also picking up T-shirts with the shop’s signature maple leaf-shaped logo.
It seems enough consumers agree with Larmeu to make a difference, as small independent bookstores have benefited in recent years as big-box book retailers like Borders and Barnes & Noble have retrenched from brick-and-mortar storefronts.
Nationwide, independent bookstores have increased their ranks by 27 percent since 2009, according to the American Booksellers Association.
In New Orleans, other independent stores have managed to maintain strong followings, such as the Garden District Book Shop and Octavia Books in Uptown.
On Sunday, book lovers said they couldn’t imagine a New Orleans without the iconic Maple Street bookstore, which was opened in 1964 by sisters Mary Kellogg and Rhoda Norman.
Kellogg’s daughter, Rhoda Faust, took over in 1971 and ran the shop for nearly four decades. She created its slogan, “Fight the stupids,” which has become a frequent sight on bumper stickers and which became a sort of rallying cry for customers who were devastated at the prospect of the shop closing.
“I was really sad to see the shop was going to close,” said Amanda Cardenas, a 29-year-old waitress. “People still need to read a hard book sometimes. And they don’t always want to go out to Barnes & Noble in Metairie.”
Justin Scalise, a 36-year-old actor and producer, as well as 35-year-old engineer Michael Reddle, said the bookstore was integral to keeping another generation of New Orleanians educated.
Reddle, who was there to pick up a copy of “Where the Wild Things Are” for his nearly 1-year-old daughter, said there was something “romantic” about still going to Maple Street for the gift.
“It’s certainly an integral piece of culture for the neighborhood,” Scalise said.
Scott made the announcement about the shop remaining open on Facebook on Sunday morning, and by evening the open letter had been shared more than 170 times.
He hopes not to have to let the store’s fan base down in the coming year.
“All of us here are really grateful for the response,” he said. “People in New Orleans really appreciate businesses that have been part of the city for a long time.”