BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) ––– One independent business owner is looking to change the retail landscape in downtown Baton Rouge by opening a new bookstore.

Parts of Baton Rouge’s downtown often look like a ghost town most weekends, and with independent retailers in short supply, James Curtis decided to fill the void.

He started with Outside Stimuli, a plant shop on Florida Boulevard. But when COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement came to the forefront, he questioned, “What are we doing here? What are we gonna be doing downtown?” 

After talking to his customers and looking into what Baton Rouge wanted and needed, he landed on a bookstore. 

Curtis said opening a Black-owned bookstore presents an opportunity to tell the stories that often go untold. He explained that more than half of Baton Rouge’s population is Black, and when a majority of the population isn’t talked about, it reduces the economic stimulus going into that community.

A bookstore creates a space for people to come together, allowing different communities to learn and grow together.

“You can come into a space where you can not only learn about the people you live amongst, but you can also express who you are and your culture,” he said.

Realizing that Black entrepreneurs often have less access to capital when starting a business, he said he decided to use his art as activism, choosing to make handcrafted wooden pencil holders and “not ask for donations and grants, but make something and say, ‘with our own hands, we can self-fund.'” The pencil holders sell for $35, and the proceeds from each sale go toward building the space.

“We are trying to create something where whether you are a student, whether you are someone who’s working or living downtown, there’s a space for all of us,” said Curtis.

He adds, “our downtowns are important, and they do not belong to anyone. They belong to all of us.”

Baton Rouge Books is opening during Black History Month in February 2023. For more information and to support the store, visit the website here.