Photos and words by Gaige Davila
Books, at least being able to buy them, have returned to the Laguna Madre area.
Unruly Cactus, a bookstore and coffee bar, opened three weeks ago in the shadow of the Port Isabel Lighthouse, its home in the Fort Polk Commissary building, the last strip of businesses before driving on the Queen Isabella Memorial Causeway.
Since Paragraphs Bookstore on South Padre Island closed in March 2020, a notable vacuum had been created: there were no locally owned bookstores in the Laguna Madre area and there are hardly any in the Rio Grande Valley at all. Unruly Cactus’ owner, Gayle Curry, said opening the store has attempted to fill that void. After some consulting with her children in April, Curry found a space for rent in the Fort Polk Commissary building the next day.
“I love Port Isabel, I love this space, and I recognized that there was no bookstore,” Curry said, noting former Paragraphs Bookstore owner Griff Magnan gave advice on the business end.
Curry described the bookstore’s place within the community best by a customer who came in with their two children: the customer said “I found a local bookstore, it was just my soul needed.” Unruly Cactus’ new bookmarks now read, “a local bookstore, just what the soul needs.”
“I knew going into it I wanted to create a community space that was inviting people to study, play chess, sit and read, and I honestly didn’t know how books would go over,” Curry, who was a teacher for several years in Los Fresnos and Port Isabel before deciding to open Unruly Cactus, said. “But the response has been fantastic.”
Unruly Cactus has had visitors that sought out the bookstore solely to support a local business, opting not to purchase books at Barnes & Noble in McAllen even if it was closer.
The name comes from a conversation Curry had with her sister over the phone, the latter of whom placed items outside their home for anyone passing by. One of those items, Curry’s sister described, was an “unruly cactus.” The name stuck, and the same unruly cactus—a fishbone cactus—now sits in the front window of the store.
Unruly Cactus has already hosted some book club meetings and will soon host story times for kids, poetry readings and book signings for local authors. Inside the store, local coffee company Laguna Coffee Roasters is sold; art from Diana Lehmann, a resident artist from the Laguna Madre Art League whose works are on rotation at Unruly Cactus, adorns the walls; tote bags, puzzles and literature-themed temporary tattoos are part of the stores many interesting literature-or-local themed items for sale.
Behind their coffee bar, customers can order hot coffees and teas with familiar options like mocha lattes and chai teas or more adventurous tastes like the horchata and matcha lavender lattes.
Unruly Cactus is planning a grand opening at the end of August, giving the space an official ceremony to welcome eager locals and curious visitors alike. But you can stop by today from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday, at 412 E. Queen Isabella Blvd, Suite C, in Port Isabel.
“I hope we’re here for the long haul and become a part of the community,” Curry said. “Whatever the future brings, we definitely want to be a welcoming community space.”