A Bibliophile's Delight
“We’ve heard about used bookstores, but we’d never seen one,” is what Steve Lacy, owner of Dauphine Street Books, often hears as young people wander into his business to escape the French Quarter’s verve and bustle.
Upon entering the shop, you discover a labyrinth of books — shelf after shelf stacked from floor to almost ceiling — along with boxes and benches bursting with books. The space has that earthy, grassy smell — the sublime aroma of old books. It's a place where you can effortlessly lose yourself for hours.
Lacy has been selling books for 45 years — 20 years at a bookstore in Santa Cruz and almost a quarter of a century at his shop in the French Quarter.
His 700-square-foot store contains an estimated 30,000 books, including everything from “Songs of the Doomed” by Hunter S. Thompson to “Great Houses of New Orleans” by Curt Bruce. There are also books on all kinds of topics, from Black History to Victorian Gardening. His most requested books are “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole and “Picayune Creole Cookbook,” which includes more than 800 timeless Creole recipes, originally published in 1901 and updated as a sesquicentennial edition in 1987.
“I sell mostly general modern literature and anything local also sells well,” he says. “I look for the kinds of books that will have a lasting interest. After all these years, I’ve just developed an instinct for it.”
Lacy is a staff of one, though in the summer his girlfriend Katrina, a professor at Dillard University, helps out. The shop is open seven days a week and Lacy says there’s no such thing as a standard day at work.
“There’s no real pattern,” he says. “Mondays can be busy, or Sundays. Every day is different and there’s always a mixture of tourists and natives.”
“Everything is cozy,” says Laura Fuller, a regular customer who holds five books in her hand ready to purchase. “He’s very knowledgeable and knows where everything is. This is one of my all-time favorite stores.”
Lacy buys most of the shop’s books at estate sales. He enjoys hunting for books and loves to find that book he’s never seen.
“It’s a sense of discovery,” he says, “and almost every day I stumble upon something new and interesting.”
Lacy is also always on the lookout for books for his regular clients, who include Carroll Blakemore, a UNO emeritus professor of mathematics whose interests include U.S. presidents and the Civil War.
“Steve always knows the books I like and he’s nice enough to call when he finds something,” Blakemore says.
A bit like a human Amazon algorithm, Lacy moves from customer to customer pointing out: “If you like that book, you’ll love this one.”
To keep his business current, he’s selling books online on Amazon and Dauphine Street Books has a Facebook page. Lacy is, however, beginning to contemplate a new life that includes travel and adventure.
“I might be looking for a buyer one day soon, someone crazy enough to do this,” he says before pausing and wryly smiling. “I think I’ll start by sending a notice to people in an insane asylum.”