In the second episode of Alexander Books’ podcast, co-owners Dylan and Camille Simon covered the topic of Celtic books and told the story of how they met. Together in an Irish history class at UL Lafayette, the now-married couple had to impersonate different Irish characters. Dylan dressed up as St. Patrick and Camille as his female counterpart, St. Brigid. Dylan later took Camille on a date to the old location of Alexander Books, and it’s safe to say there was love among the stacks. The two have been instrumental in establishing a Celtic section of books on Johnston Street, just one of many changes at the new Alexander Books.
On the heels of St. Patrick’s Day and a book promotion with the Celtic Bayou Festival last weekend, there’s no question that the new owners of Lafayette’s beloved used bookstore have ingrained themselves in the community — and already launched impressive plans for growth.
Only a few years out of college, the Simons and their co-owners, Alexis and William Primeaux and Jori Bercier, bought Alexander Books last year. The quintet met at Our Lady of Wisdom Catholic Student Center at UL and shared a pipedream of owning the store, opened by Gary and Barbara Alexander in 1989 on the corner of West Congress and St. Thomas streets.
When it was announced that the bookstore was up for sale last year, the group started hanging out there with Barbara and struck up a friendship. “We found this spot, and everything kind of fell in line,” Alexis says about the new Johnston Street location. Formerly The Mulberry Tree, which hosts children’s birthday parties and moved to Guilbeau Road, Alexander Books’ new home is just as cozy as the original one.
“The old location was a great spot, but we knew we could be somewhere more in the public realm,” says Bercier, who frequented the store as a child. “A lot of people didn’t realize it was there, and we needed a bigger space for the events we were hoping to host.”
Bercier and the rest of the owners had done enough research to know that modern-day bookstores have to do more than just sell books. “The bookstore is a community space meant to bring people together and encourage them to fall in love with their identities and themselves while pursuing higher learning,” says Bercier, a UL Lafayette School of Architecture and Design graduate who runs the nonprofit Scio, which means “to know yourself” in Latin. Her focus is on recognizing that community spaces put in the right places in a city can turn people’s lives around through involvement.
Since reopening on Dec. 15, Alexander Books has launched three events a month, along with the podcast and an upcoming classic movie night on April 7 with Southern Screen. Stories Matter, a live reading series, will next take place on April 23. Ladies of St. Mary, which hosts house concerts, has made the bookstore their new venue for musical showcases and will present their next show April 4. Dylan started a Great Books Study, a sort of tutor-led book club for works that are more than 100 years old. Next up is Plato’s The Republic on April 13.
“This is about opening a bookstore as much as it is taking time to partner with places like Habitat for Humanity or those places that service the bigger picture of the community,” Bercier adds.
Each owner has a different area of focus — and favorite type of literature. Alexis is an environmental biologist trying to expand Alexander Books’ science section. William is a middle school world history and religion teacher who enjoys shelving books, and Dylan is also a teacher with a masters in child and family studies, along with an interest in podcasting. Camille studied English as an undergrad and manages the store full-time, while the others come in to help in the evenings and on Saturdays.
“Because of our different backgrounds, every person has their set of skills that helps us work together as a team,” says Bercier. “We all have this common goal of community and authenticity.”
An inaugural children’s story time also took place in February, when Louisiana native author Rosalind Bunn read from her book Once Upon a Zoo. It’s the first new book that Alexander Books will carry, part of a new effort to support independent local authors and give them a platform to sell their work through the store.
A French table, full café, liquor license and more community partnerships are in the works. The owners also want UL Lafayette students to know they can come in and find a quiet spot to work or study, use the wifi and get a cup of Rêve coffee for $2.
“Every day, we kind of sit down and think about what areas we haven’t tapped into yet,” says Bercier. “We’re really excited for what the future holds.”
While relocating 25,000 books and learning the ropes of running an independent bookstore was no small feat, all of the owners say they have been surprised by the community support — and the sheer amount of books that come through the store each week.
“Just when we think we have everything shelved, somebody will come in with a truck full,” says William. “People are bringing us tons of books and then leaving with more books.”
With approximately 200 books coming in each day, titles are piled in almost every spare spot of the store and fill up a small storage closet in back. The shelves on the open floor keep a stock of more than 30 genres neatly organized, for the most part. Rooms offshoot into more rooms holding sections on everything from social commentary to animals, religion, southern fiction and nonfiction, science and world history. Closets inside those rooms are filled with kids and young adult books, cooking, travel, gardening and memoirs.
Paperbacks are still the store’s bread and butter though. The new store honors the original credit system started by the Alexanders, even for customers with accounts going back 30 years. Like before, paperbacks can only be traded for credit toward other paperbacks. Not accepted are paperbacks in poor or torn condition, magazines and old textbooks. The house may purchase hardcovers that pass inspection.
“We get more books in than out,” says Alexis. “We weed out a lot of romance novels.”
Notes, old photos and bookmarks found in some of the books that come in are posted to an interior wooden door, a nod to the old Alexander Books. There’s currently a New York City MetroCard, Festival International schedule from 1987, a homecoming photo and handwritten note signed “Grampa.”
Organization is something Barbara Alexander has stayed on to help with, and she’s also teaching the group how to sell on Amazon. “She has so much knowledge,” says Bercier. “It’s a niche business, and we wouldn’t be able to do it without the education aspect of her helping us work through that transition.”
Barbara did take the original bookstore’s resident cats with her, but Alexander Books’ new logo will feature a feline, and Bercier says shoppers are welcome to come in with their pets. Dog Teche, a Blue Healer mix who belongs to the Primeauxes, usually hangs out at the store on weekends.
“I like the used books because they have a personal touch,” says Alexis. “Getting into this business was scary, but everybody that comes in is thankful we’re doing this.”