Location: Baton Rouge, East Baton Rouge, Louisiana, United States
The original Lois Shortess Book Shop opened August 26, 1940, in a modest 16 x 18 foot space at 240 Convention Street in downtown Baton Rouge, after Lois Shortess was forced out of her position as State Supervisor of School Libraries at the Louisiana State Library, along with several other supervisors, following the inauguration of Governor Sam H. Jones. Lois's cousin Ann Shortess, who had also worked at the State Library, helped her run the store. Lois originally planned for the store to primarily function as a library supply house specializing in children's books, with retail sales and the lending library as sidelines.
But retail sales increased far beyond Lois's expectations, and it quickly became apparent that more space was needed. In September 1942, the store moved around the corner to 113 Third Street, in the Stroube's Drug Store building. This much larger location featured 1,400 square feet of display and sales space. A second-floor balcony overlooked the sales floor, and contained the bookkeeping, stenographic, and buying offices. A back room on the first floor housed the stockroom, gift wrapping, and shipping and receiving departments.
After Edwin Shortess, a Field Service Representative for Kiwanis International, retired in 1941, he settled in Baton Rouge and helped out in the store, although he was never an official employee. Two years later, Edwin's son Melvin Shortess and his wife Helen, along with their four children, moved from Iowa to help in the store.
In October 1944, the shop was profiled in Publisher's Weekly magazine, which listed the staff as follows:
- Lois Shortess , owner, manager, and buyer
- Ann Shortess, assistant manager
- Laura Claire Wood, in charge of rental library
- Danie Miller, in charge of retail sales
- Gretchen Bruneau, in charge of stock, shipping, billing and receiving
- Melvin Shortess, bookkeeper
- Edwin Shortess, not an official employee, "but is a friendly and helpful worker and adviser"
In 1947, Ann married Skipper McGehee and moved to Lake Charles, Louisiana. She opened a branch of the bookstore there, which closed in 1952.
Lois returned to the Louisiana State Library in 1951, and sold the store to her stepson Melvin Shortess.
The store focused on local writers, but it also sold trade and gift books, magazines, personalized stationery, greeting cards, and a small selection of toys. The store also sold artwork, particularly works by Caroline Durieux, a good friend of Melvin and Helen Shortess. Book signings by local writers including Harnett T. Kane and Frances Parkinson Keyes were frequent events. In 1953 a signing for Hodding Carter's "Where Main Street Meets the River" was so successful, Melvin reported to Publisher's Weekly that "we could not close the store at the regularly appointed time."
In 1958, the store, now known as Shortess Book Shop, Inc., moved to the newly constructed University Shopping Center on State Street, just outside the north gate of Louisiana State University. The developer of the shopping center, Theo Cangelosi, was an investor in the bookstore.
In 1963, the family opened a second store, Shortess Paper Books, about a block away at 144 West Chimes St., in a building shared with Tiger Town Jewelers. This was a separate business from Shortess Book Shop, and was owned by Melvin's wife Helen, along with their sons Jack and Melvin Jr., with Helen managing the store.
About a year later, following a falling out with Cangelosi, Melvin moved Shortess Book Shop to a building at 2612 Florida Street which was owned by another investor in the store, Dr. Arthur Long. He knew moving away from the LSU area was not a good business decision, but planned to close the store within a few years and join Helen at the Chimes St. store, in a "semi-retirement." This timeline was accelerated after Melvin suffered a small stroke sometime around 1966.
Helen continued to run the Chimes St. store, with the help of family members, following Melvin's death in August 1975. The family closed the store after Helen's death in September 1979.
- "Shop Talk: The Lois Shortess Book Shop." Publisher's Weekly, October 21, 1944, pp. 1680-1681.
- "Shop Talk." Publisher's Weekly, August 1, 1953, p. 495.
- Bliven, Bruce. "Book Traveller." The New Yorker, November 12, 1973, p. 51. []
- Personal knowledge of John Shortess.
- Personal recollection of Jack Shortess, as told to John Shortess on November 26, 2021.