Anyone who continues to doubt that children’s books have become an integral part of bookselling need look no further than the 40th anniversary New England Independent Booksellers Association fall conference and trade show held at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, October 6–8. At the opening night awards dinner, Scholastic sales representative Nikki Mutch received the Saul Gilman Award for excellence, while the President’s Award, which is given at the discretion of NEIBA’s president, went to children’s book illustrator Wendell Minor and his wife, author Florence Minor. The show reserved one of two breakfasts just for children’s authors and illustrators – Robert Sabuda (The Little Mermaid, Little Simon), Maggie Stiefvater (Raven Cycle 2: The Dream Thieves, Scholastic) and D.J. MacHale (SYLO, Razorbill) – then added a slot for David Wiesner (Mr. Wuffles!, Clarion) for breakfast on the show’s last day. And at the annual meeting Annie Philbrick, co-owner of Bank Square Books in Mystic, Conn., passed the baton as president of NEIBA to Suzanna Hermans, co-owner of Oblong Books & Music in Rhinebeck, N.Y., who previously served as co-chair of the association’s children’s arm, NECBA.
Current NECBA co-chair Ellen Richmond, owner of Children’s Book Cellar in Waterville, Maine, is one of many children’s booksellers to have significantly increased the number of adult titles she carries, in her case because of the closing of the region’s Mr. Paperback chain. When asked about her favorite book from the show, she cited an adult title, a cookbook by Waterville native Daniel Bruce that she’d heard about from Globe Pequot at the Publishers’ Pick-Nic lunch, Chef Daniel Bruce Simply New England. Richmond was also “blown away” by the breakfast speakers, both adult and kids’ authors. “[The show] is my last attempt to get pumped up before the holidays,” she said. At the same time general bookstores like Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord, N.H., which recently moved down the street to a space nearly double in space, has grown its kids’ section and hired a full-time children’s specialist, Isabel Berg. Philbrick, too, is expanding her store, an announcement she made just before the show, and will take over the adjoining storefront and add another 1,800 square feet of selling space. Her plans include more displays devoted to children’s titles.
Two programs were specifically geared to children’s booksellers: Common Core Partnering, an update of a panel that Kenny Brechner, owner of DDG Booksellers in Farmington, Maine, led at both Winter Institute and BEA, and one called What Booksellers Can Do to Defend Kids Books and the Freedom to Read, with American Booksellers for Freedom of Expression president Chris Finan. Still, the many how-to talks – including Remainders and Bargain Books for Fund and Profit, and Creative Transitions in Book Store Ownership – were every bit as relevant for children’s booksellers. NECBA is considering a field trip to one of several remainder warehouses in the area, and at least one children’s store at the conference is in the midst of transitioning to a new owner.
Among the most popular panels was one moderated by Hermans on events. “If it’s an event I really want,” said panelist Stephanie Schmidt of Water Street Book s in Exeter, N.H., “I loop in my sales rep.” Jamie Tan at Brookline Booksmith in Brookline, Mass., is a big believer in Instagram for filling out grids. It gives publicists an immediate look at the store. She also keeps her press contacts in Google Docs, which she shares with publicists, and wifi passwords to all venues, to make it easier to set up at offsite events. Jan Hall, co-owner of Partners Village in Westport, Mass., only books authors with local connections, but does well with authorless events, particularly with animals. Alpacas are a customer favorite, as is Dachshund Day.
A panel on Building Bookstore Communities had listeners lined up in the hallway. Moderated by New England Random House reps Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness – creators of the Books on a Nightstand podcast and Booktopia weekends, which bring together readers in various parts of the country –the discussion’s goal was to examine what the word “community” really means. “People shouldn’t think of coming to your bookstore only for a book,” said Kindness. Panelist Lynne Reed, co-owner of Misty Valley Books in Chester, Vt., said, “Our mission is to be a center of new ideas. We feel a responsibility to our small community when we provide events and seminars.” One of her biggest annual events is a weekend-long New Voices gathering that takes place in January, which creates a sense of community among the six invited debut authors by hosting a dinner with them and taking them cross-country skiing before their public event. In the last five years, Reed has also begun asking members of the Chester community to do the introductions. For panelist Dawn Rennert, owner of Concord Bookshop in Concord, Mass., “Community means relationships. “I think of it like a Venn diagram,” she said. One of the intersecting circles includes book groups who have a table devoted to their books in the store and who write shelf-talkers. She also offers a window in the store to community groups each week, with the caveat that they have to bring their own fishing line to hang objects.
Although few if any booksellers had to travel as long as Scott Turow, author of Identical and president of the Authors Guild, who delivered the keynote address, or Maggie Stievfater, who both spent more than 12 hours door-to-door from Chicago and the West Coast, respectively, to get to the show, NEIBA drew a large audience, including at least one prospective bookseller, Barbara Kahn, who will open Jack and Allie’s Bookstore in Vernon, Ct., in spring 2014. The author reception alone had more than 20 children and adult writers, who signed books and met with booksellers; both breakfasts were sold out; and the Publishers’ Pick-Nic Lunch broke previous records, with 140 booksellers and 29 reps. According to NEIBA executive director Steve Fischer, 700 people attended the show, making among the largest regionals in the country.
The show’s emphasis on programming struck a chord with Skylar Atkins, a bookseller at the Vermont Book Shop in Middlebury, Vt., who was attending his second NEIBA trade show: “I probably took the most from the sessions and also from talking to other shops of comparable size.” Added Judy Manzo, owner of Book Ends in Winchester, Mass., “I enjoyed the whole thing. We need this immersion with each other.”
All photos: Judith Rosen.