“Do you want to give this dream a try, or finally shelf it away?” was the question Tere and James Hyfield asked themselves before starting their book shop, Red Stick Reads.
The tiny, quaint bookstore is one of the few local bookstores in Baton Rouge. Red Stick Reads is a boutique book shop that focuses on bringing diversity and representation to literature.
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Both Tere and James are avid book lovers who wanted to start a neighborhood bookshop in Baton Rouge. The couple began the store’s journey selling books in November of 2019 in the local MidCity Market. The store now resides at the same location as its permanent home.
“It was White Light Night, it was our first ever pop up as a book store in a 10x10 tent. It was pouring down raining…” James said “Books and rain don’t work. The tent was soaking up the rain. We were ready to pack up and figure out a way to get the books back into our vehicle.”
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The couple had family members buy their items first, and then many customers followed. Slowly, Red Stick Reads grew and attended the MidCity Market monthly.
“As soon as they leave, more people showed up,” said James. “Suddenly, it became the coolest thing because everyone was like , ‘A bookstore! I had no idea there was a local bookstore.'”
Red Stick Reads offers a small niche selection for its reads. While its focus is on children’s novels, the store also has adult, sci-fi, fantasy and non-fiction sections. Its selections are always increasing.
Red Stick Reads aims to become a beacon for the community. Aside from offering books, the Hyfields want to start an organic community garden, host shows and make the shop a hangout place for local students.
“I want to be able to hang out in the bookstore and talk to people every day and learn something new from every person every day. Just have conversations. There is such a great opportunity for that with stories,” James added.
Before entering the 350-square-foot shop, outside the breezeway hosts a plethora of seats for customers or guests. The Hyfield took a DIY approach to turn the former architecture firm office into a boutique book shop. James built every shelf in the store.
Although the pandemic slowed down the process, James still served the community. When Amazon had delays shipping books, people turned to Red Stick Reads. James delivered books for free.
Red Stick Reads’ catalog is truly one of its highlights. Tere, a school teacher and the shop’s book curator, has a passion for diversity in literature. For years, she started book clubs and chose books for both children and adults.
“As a teacher and mom, I will always be heavy handed in the selection of children’s books we offer, but we do hope to offer a little bit of everything,” Tere said. “Books truly are my love language, and I’m a firm believer that children’s books are not just for children.”
Representation truly matters. According to the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, in 2019, 29.2% of children and young adult literature books featured animal main characters. Animals receive more representation in books than BIPOC. Black/African main characters were featured 11.9%, 8.7% for Asian/Asian American representation and 5.3% for Latinx representation. Native American characters receive only 1% of the representation.
“Books act as portals into all these other worlds out there, and they offer the unique opportunity to view the world through someone else’s eyes,” said Tere Hyfield. "Not only do we need to see ourselves in the books/characters, books also offer us a window into lives we don’t get to see on a regular basis.”
Red Stick Reads’ inventory is not only curated but carefully selected. The book shop is more than a business, but a source of comfort, change and community. The Hyfields want to focus on their relationships with people and not be transactional.
“It doesn’t always have to be a transaction. I don’t always have to make money when you come here. If I’m helping out the community, then it’s going to come back. Put out good vibes,” James added, displaying his Little Free Library box sitting in the front of the store.
Customers can preorder any book through the Red Sticks Read’s Bookshop store to order. Currently, the book shop operates under appointment shopping.