Blue Cypress Books: Keeping New Orleans well read with dedicated local following

Blue Cypress Books has been keeping the community well-read for what’s coming up on 12 years this year.

by Steven Melendez
January 15, 2020

A few blocks from Tulane and Loyola universities, among the coffee shops and vintage stores of Oak Street, Blue Cypress Books has been keeping the community well-read for what’s coming up on 12 years this year.

“This was my neighborhood, so I always wanted to open a secondhand shop here,” said owner Elizabeth Ahlquist, as resident cat Kitty Meow made her namesake sound nearby. “I love Oak Street. I’ve always loved Oak Street.”


Outside Looking In

Visitors to the store are greeted outside by a small display of discount books and step across the threshold first to a collection of new books about New Orleans and the region, including recent titles such as the New Orleans East memoir The Yellow House by Sarah M. Broom, currently among the shop’s bestsellers.


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Treasures Within

Deeper in the store lies an eclectic collection of the mostly secondhand books that marked the bookstore’s beginning, including a back room stocked with genre fiction. That includes some of the city’s best selection of used science fiction, fantasy and mystery novels. The new books section has expanded over time, especially after neighborhood favorite Maple Street Books closed in 2017.


The Blue Cypress Specialty

Special to Blue Cypress is its large collection of secondhand children’s books, which Ahlquist said most other bookstores won’t carry except for collectibles, like first editions of classics. Ahlquist said that over the shop’s lifetime, she’s had customers who initially came in as couples shopping for books for themselves return to shop for their young children.

The shop has a steady clientele not just of parents and children but of teachers from local elementary schools, for whom she often gives discounts and handles special orders. Ahlquist also visits some local schools to offer homegrown book fairs, making sure to bring books in an appropriate price range so that each student can afford to go home with a book.

“I’ll try to bring everything in under $5 so that every kid can get a book,” she said.


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How It All Started

The store got it start when Ahlquist, a paralegal by training who had dealt in secondhand books as a hobby, found herself looking for work in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the levee failures. She first tested the market with a pop-up shop at The Mockingbird, a restaurant in the neighborhood at the time.

“She let me put a table up over a weekend, just to see if there was any interest in people buying quality secondhand books,” she said. “And I sold out.”

When stopping by Li’l Dave’s Alterations, a longtime tailor shop in the neighborhood and former tenant of the bookstore’s current location, to have a pair of pants altered, she heard that business would be moving down the street, leaving a handy vacancy.

“They said, ‘FYI, we’ll be moving out of here in eight weeks,’ so I said, “Who’s your landlord?’” Ahlquist recalled. “That’s how it works in New Orleans.”


The Reaction

Merchants in the neighborhood, in general, have been supportive: Z’otz, a coffee shop a few doors down the road, gives a discount to anyone who stops by with a Blue Cypress bookmark (or a library card) and still has its own pop-up table of Blue Cypress merchandise. The relationship was cemented in the early days of the bookstore when Oak Street businesses lost traffic due to road work, Ahlquist said.


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Used books come from a mix of sales by customers who drop in with their favorites and local estate sales, with sellers often contacting Ahlquist about potential collections. Certain books have buyers lined up potentially even before they hit store shelves said Ahlquist, who plans to take a formal certificate-granting course in appraising this summer.

“First editions of A Confederacy of Dunces come through here,” she said, referring to the John Kennedy Toole novel that’s become a New Orleans classic. “I’ve got private buyers for those.”

Last year brought the addition of an adjacent space, which Blue Cypress has used for celebrations from author events, like a pre-launch party for local author Jami Attenberg’s novel All This Could Be Yours to children’s birthday parties.

“Every year is busier and busier,” said Ahlquist. “I’m very lucky.”

Blue Cypress Books
Getting there
8123 Oak St, New Orleans, LA 70118, USA
Mon-Fri 10am–6pm
Sat 10am–5pm
Sun 11am–4pm
More Info