The Maple Street Book Shop has long been committed to “Fighting the Stupids.”
I had seen the bumper stickers around town and was a little perplexed by the saying. It seemed a little accusatory and exclusionary, a sort of “you’re either with us or against us” mentality. Veronica Brooks-Sigler patiently explained to me that it means fighting a case of the stupids rather than stupid people.
“How do you fight the stupids? You read a book,” Brooks-Sigler said.
My initial interpretation, however, is not an uncommon one. “We did get a really strange phone call saying something about communism once.”
Maple Street Bookstore is comprised of two colorful shotgun houses side by side. The original shop is on the right and now functions as their used bookstore. While the new bookstore is pristine and bright, the used is a little more worn, just like its contents, but is painted with character. Almost every square inch of the walls is covered with posters, pictures, and newspaper clippings, ranging from a blown-up Moby Dick cover to a chiropractor’s business card. Each clearly labeled shelf is organized by genre, with staff favorites displayed throughout the store.
Near the register, James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces is on display, the sprinkled-covered pinky covered by a “Oprah’s Book Club Selection” sticker. A customer walks by and comments on it, leading to a conversation about the flexibility of nonfiction and truth that lasts a few minutes.
“Maybe we should charge a little more for it,” Veronica jokes. “It’s pretty rare, isn’t it.”
Old photos are thumb-tacked to the walls with names Sharpied on them identifying the people. In the back room near the Psychology section, there is a clipping from Strength and Health Magazine remembering the life of a body builder with a handwritten note attached: “Good Friend and Customer.”
This is the essence of Maple Street Book Shop. The oldest bookstore in New Orleans, it has been forging ties in the community since 1964. Whether you are looking for a specific book or just browsing, the people there will take the time to find exactly what you are looking for, whether you knew you were looking for it or not. Maple Street Book Shop was until 2009 divided into bookstores for children and adults. In response to changes in the economy, the advent of ebooks, and the serendipitous closing of a used bookstore, DeVille’s, Maple Street reopened as a new and used store. Its owners want books to be affordable and accessible to everyone in an era when even a paperback costs at least $12.
Maple Street Book Shop is home to book clubs, writer’s circles, and readings of all genres. It also functions as a haven for the stray cats of Maple Street, one of whom recovered a bag of first-edition books and other goods stolen from the shop last February. This Uptown shop has become more of an institution than simply a bookstore. It has adapted to the changing times over the last 47 years but keeps its integrity as a neighborhood bookshop, with its focus firmly set on good literature, a strong community base, and of course, fighting the stupids.