Ever since California booksellers paved the way to boost sales and promote the “shop local” message with California Bookstore Day last May, other booksellers have been trying to figure out a way to replicate their success. At BEA, Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association (ABA), put the kibosh on the possibility of a national Independent Bookstore Day in 2015 at the Town Hall Forum. Later it became clear that the logistical problems would be daunting, as well as the time commitment required to coordinate such a hyperlocal project. Suggestions to link it to World Book Night U.S. were thwarted in early July by WBN executives, who suspended operations in the U.S. because of financial shortfalls.
But that hasn’t stopped booksellers from trying to create bookstore days of their own, or regional associations from working with Hut Landon, executive director of the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association (NCIBA), which first came up with the concept, to create a loosely linked nationwide Independent Bookstore Day. Landon is acting as a point person to get special publisher swag, which, he said, “makes people line up outside a bookstore before it opens,” for those regions, or groups of booksellers, that want put on a bookstore day when California holds its second one next year on May 2. He’s also helping regionals with questions that arise along the way. To help, ABA is kicking in some funding and Penguin Random House gave California a grant for year two.
Even before those developments, nine Chicagoland indie booksellers set up a Chicago Independent Bookstore Day in July, which boosted sales significantly—in the case of Powell’s in University Village, by 50% above a typical Saturday in the month. In mid-August, BookPeople in Austin., Tex., will celebrate a national bookstore day of its own, which is only open to visitors of “BookPeople Nation.” “The date was totally random,” explained store owner and ABA president Steve Bercu. “We had nothing special planned. I decided to do it as an effort to see how a little humor might work after hearing lots of conversation about a national day. I wanted to try it now instead of waiting around for it to be discussed for another year or so.”
Bercu might have underestimated the power of independents who share his desire to get it done now. True, not every one of ABA’s 1,664 members will participate in 2015. But Eileen Dengler, executive director of the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA), said, “I’m looking ahead and seeing this is going to be national.” In fact, she is so convinced that, rather than plan for a New Atlantic Bookstore Day in 2015, her region is calling it Independent Bookstore Day so they won’t have to rename it next year or the year after. She’s working on a special Independent Bookstore Day logo in lieu of modifying the California logo, as some other regions will likely do.
“Yes, we’re going to have a New England Bookstore Day,” said Steve Fischer, executive director of the New England Independent Booksellers Association (NEIBA), adding that it’s still in the very early stages. Beyond the name and the May 2 date, determined by California, nothing is set. The same is true for other regions, as they get ready for fall trade shows and conferences. The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance is the only regional association that took the extra step of inviting NCIBA’s Landon to make a presentation about indie bookstore day at its trade show, which will be held in Norfolk, Va., next month, to help its booksellers better understand the bookstore day’s potential.
It’s likely that a bookstore day will work best in densely populated areas with stores in close proximity. The Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association (PNBA) encompasses states with very few indies, such as Idaho and Montana, which have six and five, respectively. The PNBA board hasn’t met yet to discuss a bookstore day in its region. But executive director Thom Chambliss said that he will support the efforts of the 30 bookstore owners who indicated on a survey that they’d like to participate in 2015. “At a minimum,” said Chambliss, “PNBA staff will connect our interested member stores with the program that Landon is offering in Northern California.”
There could, however, be problems ahead with creating an Independent Bookstore Day on a limited basis. As Midwest Independent Booksellers Association (MIBA) executive director Carrie Obry noted, “All our states are so different. To have a one-size-fits-all—that’s where the challenge is.”