Know Your NOLA, Literary Arts

What building has the most stories? The Faulkner House Books, of course.

The bookstore was once inhabited by William Faulkner himself

This story comes from Marielle Songy – you can see Marielle’s other stories for Very Local New Orleans here and follow her on Twitter @thenolachick.

Down an alley, just off Jackson Square, is a book lover’s sanctuary, where one can find a curated selection of Southern literature and classics. Located at 624 Pirates Alley, Faulkner House Books is in a townhouse that was built in 1837 that in the 1920s was home to famed writer, William Faulkner.

 

Founding a bookstore in Faulkner house

This two-room bookstore, decorated with beautiful antiques and fine mahogany bookcases was founded in 1988 by Joseph J. DeSalvo Jr. and his wife, Rosemary James. After buying the building, the couple did historical renovations on the property to make it the perfect spot to welcome bibliophiles from all over the world.

Joe and Rosemary called the store home and lived upstairs from the shop. Together they collected a selection of Southern literature and poetry and added a personal touch to all of their interactions here. They famously became friends with their customers, as well as many of the authors whose works they sold. Look around the shop and you’ll see photos of these famous authors on the wall — Harper Lee and Tennessee Williams offer inspiration as you browse the stacks.

The shop was named for William Faulkner, who completed his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay, while living here. Faulkner also wrote for New Orleans literary journal Double Dealer and was known to enjoy a cocktail or two and get into a bit of trouble in the French Quarter.

 

The next chapter for Faulkner House Books

After Joe and Rosemary retired, Garner Robinson and Devereaux Bell bought the shop in October 2019. Robinson grew up in New Orleans and worked an internship at the Faulkner Society. He became friends with Joe and Rosemary, so taking over the shop felt like a natural transition. He recruited his friend of 20 years, Bell, to sign on as co-owner.

“It was always my dream to own a bookstore and this has very much been a joint venture, since the beginning,” Robinson said. “Our goal was to keep the store exactly as Rosemary had it — to keep things at a certain level.”

“We want to keep the store true to what it’s always been,” Bell added.

 

A community center for readers

One thing that separates a bookstore like Faulkner House Books from the larger bookstore chains is the communication between the store and the customer.

Bell explained, “A store like this is one of the last places that has a personal relationship with its customers; we know them. People love the history of the place itself, and it’s a sort of community center.”

“We have a great relationship with the community,” Robinson added. “We have customers from outside of New Orleans who only get their books from us. We get plenty of tourists who visit, but we have a really great relationship with the locals.”

 

A personalized book subscription service

During the pandemic, it was the shop’s loyal customers as well as the shop’s subscription service that kept the doors open, even if the actual doors were closed for a while. Much of the credit should be given to store manager Joanne Sealy, who reads every book that comes into the store and has personal relationships with authors. Shopkeeper Peter Webb also has a personal relationship with regular visitors here.

“Joanne keeps a dossier on customers,” Robinson explained. “She can even have a conversation with someone and determine just what type of books she thinks they will like.”

Joanne’s skills are put to the test for their subscription service. On the Faulkner House Books website, you are asked to send a bit of information about yourself and, for a fee, Joanne will personally choose three to five books just for you.

Robinson said that if you want more of a relationship with your bookstore and those who sell your books, then Faulkner House Books is the shop for you.

“What makes our store special is our curated selection of books,” he said. “We think we have one of the largest selections of rare books and first editions in New Orleans.”

Indeed, the rare editions are something to behold, tucked away for safekeeping in a glass case. These books, which have passed through many hands throughout the years, would be the jewel to any customer’s collection.

Bell explained, “People missed hands-on shopping during the pandemic, and when you’re selling rare books, it’s hard to do that online. People want to come in and look at the book — touch it. If someone is spending that kind of money, they should be able to do that. People want that experience.”

Faulkner House Books has seen an uptick in its social media presence lately, thanks to Robinson’s wife Permele, who also runs her own digital marketing agency, Billion Dollar Boy.

“Permele has been outstanding and has really put an imprint on social media for us,” Garner Robinson said. “She makes personal posts about specific books and keeps us connected with our customers. She’s brought our interaction with our customers to another level.”

Faulkner House Books is the perfect place to spend hours. In this cozy shop, it’s hard not to lose yourself in an adventure as the world passes outside the door. In these walls, where masterpieces were written, you’re sure to find your own creative spark. 

Devereaux Bell said it best when we talked, “This place itself creates stories.”

 

Know before you go: Faulkner House Books

Address: 624 Pirate’s Alley, New Orleans, LA, 70116

Website: faulknerhousebooks.com

Follow Faulkner House Books: 

IG: faulknerhousebooks

FB: Faulkner House Books

TW: @Faulknerhouse