Despite financial concerns about the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association, which have been bubbling up since last year’s annual meeting when the organization announced that it faced a five-figure loss for the year, there was a surprising amount of optimism at this year’s annual trade show. Moved to the weekend, the three-day show (Saturday through Monday Oct. 13-15) was back in Tacoma for the first time in a decade at the Hotel Murano, which showcased work by a different glass artist on every floor, including local artist Dale Chihuly.
The show drew new booksellers like Todd Halbert, who opened a used bookstore, Finally Found Books in Black Diamond, Wash., this summer in the same location that Baker Books vacated, when it closed in April. And at least one longtime bookseller was back in a new role. René Kirkpatrick, who worked for many years at the now closed All for Kids Books & Music children’s bookstore in Seattle, became a new partner at 43-year-old Eagle Harbor Book Co., on Bainbridge Island, Wash., last month. Overall, though, bookseller numbers at the show were down with representatives from 90 stores.
More than 100 authors were at the who with several former booksellers appearing on the other side of the podium at author breakfasts, lunches, dinners, and nightcapper, including Eowyn Ivey, formerly with Fireside Books in Palmer, Alaska, whose debut novel, The Snow Child—along with Lance Weller’s Wilderness, Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, James Beard Award-winning chef and restaurateur Tom Dahlia’s The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook, and Sherman Alexie’s story collection, Blasphemy—was among the most frequently cited regional titles expected to do well this holiday season. Among the other booksellers-turned-authors were: Tina Connolly (Ironskin), St. Helen’s Book Shop in St. Helens, Ore.; Nicole Georges (Calling Dr. Laura) Other Words in Portland, Ore.; and Jonathan Evison (Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving), who worked for Leigh Ann Giles, now with Western Washington University Bookstore in Bellingham, at a store on Bainbridge Island.
This year’s show had a smaller, but active, exhibit hall. “Vendors said it was the best show in a couple years. The attitude [on the floor] was fabulous,” said PNBA executive director Thom Chambliss. “I’ve been very busy,” said Tom Faherty Jr. of Faherty & Associates. “I did notice a stack of small bookstores that weren’t on my radar before.” Many of those stores are used bookstores looking to add or expand their new book section, like Third Street Books in Marysville, Wash. Owner Darilee Bednar, told PW that she was at the show because, “we have to have new books.” She’s planning to remove 10,000 used titles from her store to free up 200 linear feet for new books, which she would like to begin ordering direct for better discount.
Educational sessions, ranging from ABA’s workshops on literacy and e-books to “Building Community with Social Media,” continued to be popular this year. “PNBA’s more helpful than ALA and PLA,” said Lisa Oldoski, who buys adult nonfiction and YA for Pierce County Library in Tacoma. While Oldoski spent much of the education day sitting in on rep picks, other librarians participated in a special track of programming geared to them with sessions on “Forging Better Relationships with Publishers” and “Adult Storytimes.” Susan Richards, who just completed a 1,000 sq. ft. expansion of Inklings Bookshop in Yakima, Wash., to 4,100 sq. ft., credited part of her store’s success to the trade show. “We made it so far because of education,” she said. Her new space includes a greatly expanded children’s section, which more than doubled from 600 to 1,000 sq. ft. “There are children born every day who need picture books,” said Richards, explaining her decision to focus on kids’ titles.
This year’s annual meeting was more upbeat than last year’s, although many of the same concerns remain. “We’re going to end up ok; it’s not as dire as we expected,” said PNBA president Karla Nelson, owner of Time Enough Books in Ilwaco, Wash. That’s because the association has made some cuts, but also because its holiday catalog was more successful than projected. In part that’s due to a compromise that none of the other regionals chose. PNBA accepted an ad for its holiday catalog for a title in Amazon’s New Harvest. The organization also met its mandate for a balanced budget by dipping into its rainy-day funds.
As is the case throughout the country, PNBA membership has shrunk from store closings, down from 155 bookstore members in 2011 to 146 this year. Overall membership dropped by five from last year’s 301, because of gains in library membership. To save money, the association will move the show back to an airport hotel in Portland. It is also considering shutting down its NW Book Lovers Web site, which it created for consumers. Executive director Chambliss is directing the group to look more deeply at payroll after cutting one part-timer. “You really have to look at the money at the top,” he said, adding that he has began a conversation with the board regarding his employment.