When you walk into Cottonwood Books, the first person who greets you is Danny Plaisance, the owner of the local bookstore. As you venture further, you will find stacks and stacks of books of all kinds. Fiction, political science, history, philosophy and a children’s section are filled to the brim with colorful spines. There’s also an extensive used book selection toward the back of the shop.
“We opened our doors in September 1986. If you do the math, it’s almost 32 years we’ve been open,” Plaisance said.
Over the course of those 32 years, Plaisance has unfortunately been a primary witness to the decline of print media.
“There’s definitely a decrease in people buying books,” Plaisance said. “There’s no doubt that’s the internet that’s doing it.”
Susan Weinstein, an associate professor of English at the University, agrees with Plaisance.
“Digital technology is forcing us to reorient our relationship to printed texts,” Weinstein said. “Given the convenience and access that digital platforms offer, it makes sense that books would go online quickly. People will always want certain kinds of books in physical form, and there is some sense that digital content isn’t ‘permanent’ in the same way, but I think it’s all OK. We’re not going to stop reading any time soon.”
Though the other independent Baton Rouge bookstores have died off quite a while ago, Cottonwood has stood the test of time despite a relatively small selection and the competition of the three Barnes and Noble stores.
Two things that set Cottonwood apart from chain bookstores is its collection of beautiful first-editions and the face-to-face interaction that independent bookstores encourage.
“First edition” is the term for a first printing of a book. People usually curate a collection of first editions from a certain author, like Stephen King or John Grisham.
Cottonwood has a decent stock of first editions, including a few copies of “A Confederacy of Dunces” and other rare books, especially those pertinent to South Louisiana. Some date back 200 years or more. The oldest book Plaisance has in the shop is entirely in Latin and was published in 1637.
First-editions and the small, quaint atmosphere contribute to the bookstore’s importance to developing a reader community in Baton Rouge despite the decline of sales.
“I believe that local, face-to-face social spaces of various kinds are critical to communities, especially as we all spend more time inside and online and less time interacting in physical spaces,” Weinstein said. “Bookstores are certainly a place where people have traditionally congregated for discussion, exploration, and sociability, so they remain important for those purposes.”
Plaisance’s place in the community is undisputed and highly valued. Cottonwood is here to stay in the Baton Rouge community.