Revenge of the Nerds
One Tome At A Time
Candice Detillier Huber, 31, is a 6th generation New Orleanian with a penchant for fantasy and sci-fi, Harry Potter and Disney princesses. But, as a little girl in Metairie, her childhood was no fairy tale.
“Growing up I was always a nerd,” she said. “I was beat up and bullied. It was awful. I want to give kids like that a place to go. A place to be themselves and escape all of that.”
During Halloween weekend, Huber closed one chapter and started another, proving you should never judge a book by its cover. She opened her first business celebrating the grand opening of Tubby & Coo’s, a new Mid-City bookstore that glorifies the dorky demographic she used to be punished for being a part of.
“My focus is on what’s historically known as nerdy genres,” she said. “And my merchandise appeals to a nerdy crowd. They can come here and hang out, and we can all be nerds together. In everything we do here, we promote being yourself.”
Walking into Tubby & Coo’s Mid-City Book Shop, a cozy 2-story shotgun on 631 N. Carrollton, is like passing through Lewis Carroll’s proverbial looking glass. It’s a place where Star Trek trumps Salinger, Doctor Who outranks Dumas and hours playing board games on Sundays supersedes time spent reading Dickens, Hawthorne, Austen and Steinbeck. Mystery, horror and true crime steal the spotlight from general fiction. Floating bookshelves line the walls of a stairwell decorated like book spines. There’s a Harry Potter backdrop of Platform 9¾ behind the register, a Harry Potter bedroom under the staircase and an upstairs children’s reading room illustrated like a scene out of “Toy Story.”
I was skeptical when I found out an independent bookstore was opening up in Mid-City. I thought it an out of print concept at a time when most people prefer to buy their books electronically and read from tablets rather than turn dog eared pages from cover to cover. Huber said seeking out a niche specific crowd was the binding secret to her success.
“The bank really liked my business plan,” Huber said. “I showed them the research. There are more independent bookstores opening than closing.”
According to the American Booksellers Association, there are 2,000 independent bookstores in the U.S., 20% more than in 2009 and the highest number since 2005. They report sales grew upwards of 10% in 2012 and 2013.
“There are some great independent bookstores in the City, but most carry only literary fiction, not genre subjects,” Huber said. “There were no bookstores in Mid-City, and I planned to cater to my crowd, people who liked different things.”
Huber’s 3-point plan, and a 70/30 split between genre fiction and unique merchandise cohabitating on her shelves, proved a winning combination that secured a SBA backed loan covering most of her start-up costs. That, and a personal $40,000 investment, propelled her on a 6-month, first edition journey to find an ideal space in her grandparents’ old neighborhood on Carrollton Avenue.
“I signed the lease in a leap of faith and thought I’d figure things out after,” she said.
You may be surprised, but Huber embraces the ebook revolution. She doesn’t think Amazon is the Devil, and she owns a Kindle.
“I’m a big believer in ebooks and paper books,” she said. “Books have been around for thousands and thousands of years. A book as an object is a work of art. I like to compare them to elevators and stairs. Just because elevators are easier, stairs aren’t ever going away.”
She said “indies” like her paperback paradise will never go away, either. The closure of Borders was a big boost for independents, Huber said, and big box bookstores suffered more from the influx of ebooks then smaller stores ever had. While Huber plans to sell Amazon ebooks on her website, she said they won’t make much money on them. She said their profit margin comes from discounts they get from publishers and distributors.
“We have to work with them to survive, and that’s what we’re all going to have to do,” she said of Amazon. “Work together, stop fighting and find creative ways to coexist.”
Taking a page from literary realism, Huber employs only 1 part-timer and isn’t expecting to draw a salary for about a year. She’s banking on offering a personal experience, convenience and variety, and leaning on her neighborhood to do the rest. “Mid-City is very community oriented,” she said. “It’s something we can offer that the internet can’t.”
Tubby & Coo’s is open every day, except Wednesdays, from 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m. Their steady stream of bookworms includes primarily 25-35-year-olds, parents with small kids and high schoolers from nearby Jesuit and Dominican.
The store’s table of contents include the “Melting Pot” (cooking, sports, poetry and plays), “Kills and Thrills” (mysteries), “Stranger than Fiction” (true crime and non-fiction), “Where Y’at Read Dat” (local books and authors) and “Here We Come to Get You” (horror and sci-fi).
There’s also a “Mix Tape” section featuring general fiction and designated areas for fantasy, romance, movies and TV.
The eclectic and eccentric limited edition merchandise seems to draw customers in too. Expect to find literary figure finger puppets, Poe, Shakespeare and Wilde action figures, magnetic Batman, Game of Thrones and Leggo bookmarks, a talking Star Wars’ Yoda, freaky T-shirts and an “Ultimate Geek Pen” which Huber dubs the “Geek Swiss Army Knife.” It’s a pen that’s also a laser pointer, UV light, flashlight and stylus tip.
Tubby & Coo’s hosts a Dungeons & Dragons night on Thursdays, children’s story time on Saturday mornings and board game nights on Sundays, which usually draws up to 35 participants. The store sells traditional Monopoly, Clue, Operation, and Risk, but also hawks Hobbit Scrabble, Super Mario Yahtzee and Munchkin and Ticket To Ride video games, all on display in a separate room set aside for serious gamers.
They’ll have author signings and Disney vacation planning sessions every month. Huber’s husband Bradley is a professional computer programmer with Touringplans.com, and they’re both avid Disney fans.
Huber said she most identifies with Disney’s Belle, from “Beauty and the Beast,” who gets her own library, and, like New Orleans’ own Tiana, in “The Princess and the Frog,” Huber is an entrepreneur who starts her own business.
Huber is also a writer – check out her website www.fleurdelit.com – and a supporter of small publishers. “Big bookstores don’t pay them much mind, and the internet doesn’t give them great deals,” Huber said. “Independent book sellers do a lot for small publishers. They want to keep us around, and we want to help them survive as well.”
A not-so-subtle subtitle to Huber’s business plan is “be creative and stand out.” Tubby & Coo’s will soon provide a book delivery service, and Huber is cultivating her outdoor backyard deck into a future event space.
“Offering new and different things to customers, that’s what keeps us growing,” she said.
“I always wanted to open up a bookstore,” Huber said. “It’s been a life’s dream of mine. Ever since I was a kid I wanted to work in a library or own a bookstore. As an adult I figured owning a bookstore was the better way to go.”
Huber’s bookstore is dedicated to her grandfather “Tubby” and grandmother “Coo.”
Tubby celebrated his 94th birthday on Sunday, Nov. 2, and attended the grand opening, which doubled as a birthday bash in his honor.
“He loves it,” Huber said. “He thinks it’s great. He’s happy for me and was proud to tell everyone he’s the ‘Tubby’ of Tubby & Coo’s.”