End of an era: Baton Rouge institution Cottonwood Books closing this weekend | Entertainment/Life

Taking a break from shopping at Cottonwood Books, Michael Bounds was asked what it was about this place that resonated so strongly with customers like him. Owner Danny Plaisance, standing nearby, couldn’t resist interjecting.

“Me,” Plaisance said. “Just kidding.”

Good jokes, of course, contain an element of truth.







A handful of collectible books sit on the shelf  at Cottonwood Books. The independent bookstore is closing down after years in business, liquidating its remaining stock in a large sale before closing the doors.




A beloved Baton Rouge institution, Cottonwood has reached the last page in its story and will close Saturday. Its final two days will offer all specialty, rare, new and signed books for 50% off, and remaining hardbacks for $2 and paperbacks for $1, with everything left over being donated to a library.

Cottonwood didn’t succumb to market forces that have driven most other independent bookstores into oblivion. Rather, it was Plaisance’s health. After owning the Perkins Road store for more than 35 years, Parkinson’s disease forced him to close or sell it, and no buyer could be found — though not for lack of trying.







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A customer checks out at Cottonwood Bookson April 29. The independent bookstore is closing down after years in business, liquidating its remaining stock in a large sale before closing the doors.




“I’ve talked to over 20 people who were interested in the store, but everything was a different issue,” said Nancy Plaisance, Danny’s wife. “One didn’t have the finances. Most of them wanted to buy the whole building, which we lease. There were some lease issues for the last three people I talked to. They were going to go up on the lease to a 3-year lease, and it was significantly higher than ours.”

The building’s owners, Dale and Diane Barringer, had given Plaisance a great deal on rent, said Sonny Cranch, a Baton Rouge marketing executive who spearheaded a failed fundraising attempt to keep Cottonwood afloat. The rate being offered to new tenants reflected the current market rate, Cranch said, making it unattractive for those who wanted to keep it as a bookstore.

“They were charging 1980s rent,” Cranch said. “I valued the place as did so many others. I just hated to see it go by the wayside. But that’s the way it’s going to work out.”







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Shoppers wander the stacks during one of the last days of operation at Cottonwood Books.




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Plaisance wasn’t Cottonwood’s first owner. It was called Taliesen’s when it opened in 1978 and got its current name when it was sold four years later. Plaisance, then a paper salesman, bought it in 1986.

Cottonwood survived despite formidable competition. First, national chains Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble offered vast inventories and prices for bestsellers that undercut what Plaisance could offer. Then came the Amazon and its ability to send books straight to your front door.

Plaisance kept Cottonwood going by selling an eclectic selection, including rare and used books that the chains didn’t offer and providing the personal service that an online behemoth couldn’t match.







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Drivers pass by Cottonwood Books on one of the last days of operation, April 29. The independent bookstore is closing down after years in business, liquidating its remaining stock in a large sale before closing the doors.




“He’s always been so helpful,” Cranch said. “I’ve found a few books there I was looking for there, but on many, many other occasions, he was able to track down some books I needed for research or just wanted to read. He’s gone as far as Europe to find books for me that were something out of print, but he found a copy somehow, some way through his network.”

For Plaisance, Cottonwood was his “happy place,” said his wife, and he would have kept going had it not been for his Parkinson’s disease. Nancy Plaisance, who retired from a banking job three years ago, started working in the store last fall to keep things going.

“The outpouring from the community has been amazing with all of them coming and thanking him,” she said. “A lot of (their purchases) were discounted, and they insisted on him taking the full amount. It’s been touching. He’s received cards and letters, just amazing support from the community.”







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A shopper leaves Cottonwood Books on April 29. The independent bookstore is closing after years in business, liquidating its remaining stock in a large sale before closing the doors.




A lot of that is to support Plaisance, who charmed customers with his helpfulness and personality.

“He doesn’t hover,” Bounds said. “He doesn’t say, ‘Hey, we have some best-sellers’ or push you toward anything. He just lets you wander around and get lost in whatever you want. It’s like an old-time bookstore where you can spend as much time as you want.”

“He was iconic,” Cranch said. “He loved what he did and he loved his bookstore, and it showed just in the way he ran it.”

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