Laissez Faire Books
In the 1970s most bookstores rarely carried no more than a couple of dozen titles with libertarian themes and either relegated the books to a single shelf or scattered them throughout the store in various categories.
On Saturday, March 4, 1972, John Muller and Sharon Presley opened a small bookshop in a storefront on Mercer Street in Greenwich Village. While the New York Times did not cover the opening of Laissez Faire Books, in attendance were some of the leading libertarian luminaries of the day. People like Murray Rothbard, Roy Childs and Jerome Tuccille.
From the beginning the goal of Laissez Faire Books was to create a one-stop place to shop for everything libertarian. That included books ranging from Menger’s Principles of Economics to Mencken’s Treatise on the Gods to Steve Ditko’s underground “Mr. A” comics whose hero reflected the influence of Ayn Rand’s objectivist philosophy.
In those early years, Laissez Faire Books quickly morphed into something more than a bookstore. It became a marketplace of ideas for libertarians who had no other venues to discuss social and political issues of the day. With lectures, films, and book signings it became the 20th century version of the ancient Greek agora.
In the 80s, to grow its business and to honor the 18th century liberals Charles James Fox and John Wilkes, Laissez Faire Books created the Fox & Wilkes imprint and became a publisher. The objective was to publish contemporary authors and reissue classic libertarian books that were out-of-print.
Through the early 90s, the used book market was fragmented into over ten thousand bookshops. To keep growing, Laissez Faire Books aggressively invested in mail-order marketing. Quickly, the customer list grew to nearly 30,000 active names who received catalogues and other mailings.
With the advent of the Internet, the bookselling landscape changed dramatically. Pricing pressures and changing customer demographics made profitability difficult for niche players like Laissez Faire Books and over the next decade, ownership and location changed several times. Late in 2010 Agora Financial, one of the nation’s premier publishers of investment advisory newsletters acquired the assets, inventory, and name and took ownership of Laissez Faire Books.
Laissez Faire Books
808 St. Paul Street
Baltimore, MD 21202