In the last few months, Tubby & Coo’s, a New Orleans queer-owned store, has transitioned from a brick-and-mortar location to a traveling book shop. I caught up with owner Candice Huber to learn more about the transition and their plans for the future.
The first thing Huber told me was that they don’t follow a traditional pop-up model. Instead, Huber compared managing Tubby & Coo’s Traveling Book Shop to event management. Each appearance is intentional and designed to replicate the feeling of being in a bookstore.
“I do everything through business partnerships and community partnerships,” Huber explained, “because my goal is to bring books to where the people are…I’m doing my best to curate vibes and make people feel like they’re in a bookstore.”
No matter where Tubby & Coo’s sets up, Huber aims to make the experience unique, memorable, and to cultivate the magic of finding a bookstore in an unexpected place.
“The serendipity of it all is what people have seemed to really like,” Huber said, recounting a partnership with a hotel, where they unexpectedly found themselves in the middle of a teacher’s conference. Understandably thrilled to find a book shop in their midst, the teachers hit it off with Huber, asking for YA recommendations. In moments like this, Tubby and Coo’s has found people who would never have visited the brick-and-mortar location.
I was curious how this move has impacted their collection and curation, but Huber explained how Tubby & Coo’s has always been heavily curated so the transition wasn’t difficult. Tubby & Coo’s carries Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Horror, and Queer titles. For events so far, Huber pulls titles they love and consistently handsell, as well as some that suit the event of the day. The resulting selection is browsable, but not overwhelming.
The idea to leave behind their physical location first occurred to Huber during the pandemic.
“My physical store was closed for two years, from March 2020 until April 2022. And we made the same amount of money as it did when it was open. That got me thinking really hard about my business model.”
With most of their revenue coming from online sales and events, was the physical store necessary? The idea stuck with them, and with the end of the store lease coming up, they decided it was time to go for it.
Louisiana’s political climate was another factor. Though not on par with some of its neighbors, Louisiana is following the wave of increased book bans and censorship. Tubby & Coo’s has always been a mission-based store, seeking to “offer queer and genre fiction books, build community, and demand social justice” to the New Orleans area. Huber felt a traveling book shop model would better serve the mission.
“The types of books that I am bringing are the types of books that people don’t want to see. The books that people don’t want me to sell, and they don’t want people to have access to,” said Huber. “So this is my response to that. I’m trying to help people maintain access to these books.”
With a mission-based approach, you might wonder why Tubby & Coo’s didn’t take the nonprofit route.
“One of the reasons I decided against that is the political climate, because as a nonprofit your funding can get pulled,” explained Huber. “Whereas if I’m a for-profit business, it’s just capitalism. This is just the free market. I’m just doing what people want and you can’t do anything about that.”
One of the biggest challenges at this point is the Louisiana heat. Though Huber has occasional help with the physical labor, this is primarily a one-person operation. They handle setting up, breaking down, packing, and unpacking for every single appearance. But it may not be an issue for long.
Huber plans to get a bookmobile in the future. Tubby & Coo’s will still do these kinds of events, but the bookmobile will allow them to expand their offerings. And there’s another benefit: hurricane evacuation. The last few years have thrown several large hurricanes at Louisiana, and with a bookmobile, Huber will be able to pack up and drive everything out of harm’s way. As we enter the peak months of hurricane season (August–October), Huber admits that just knowing many of their materials are safe in storage is a huge relief.
The long-term goal may be a bookmobile, but Huber also has several other exciting plans in the works. In an effort to keep the collection fresh for returning customers, Huber is introducing monthly themes, starting with romance in August for Bookstore Romance Day. They’re working to get queer Little Free Libraries set up around town, as well as developing a program to tackle banned books. Currently named Book Banned-Its, the program aims to distribute books that have been banned locally. They’re even looking into book vending machines!
While Tubby & Coo’s is still developing as a traveling book shop, its first few months have been an undeniable success. If you find yourself in New Orleans, Louisiana, stop by one of their events and check them out!
This article was originally published on BookWeb.org on August 17, 2023.