Carol Chittenden, owner of Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Mass., a children's specialty store that has been adding adult titles to its product mix for the past few years, has many reasons to be optimistic this summer—not just because author Coleen Murtagh Paratore chose to launch From Willa, with Love (Scholastic Press) at Eight Cousins on July 1, the store’s 25th anniversary. “We’re very optimistic,” she says, “partly because we think the economy is coming back, and we’re the only bookstore in town.” Both nearby independents closed, one just weeks ago. “Last summer was good,” adds Chittenden, “and [sales] were up in April. Sidelines have been up consistently since January.”
For bookstores in vacation destinations, like Eight Cousins, which is on Cape Cod, the summer can be the equivalent of other stores’ holiday selling season. But this summer could be a bit quieter for some booksellers, and not just because of tornadoes or rising gas prices. As Claire Benedict, co-owner of Bear Pond Books and Rivendell Books, in Montpelier, Vt., points out, “This is the first summer where we’re going to feel the effects of the e-readers. They’re chipping away at our sales.” Although most booksellers are feeling the e-book pinch on the adult side, they have started to creep into children’s, a reason cited by Hillel Stavis for closing Curious George & Friends in Cambridge, Mass., later this month. But the threat of lost sales to e-books didn’t stop Benedict from opening a second Rivendell location earlier this year in the Berlin Mall in a space vacated by Waldenbooks.
Nor has it deterred customers from shopping at stores in other parts of the country. “We still have a healthy demand for print,” says Ed Conklin, buyer at Chaucer’s Books in Santa Barbara, Calif. In fact, with the closing of a large number of Borders stores in the state, he’s seen sales rise “dramatically.” E-books haven’t taken over Tacoma, Wash., either. “Certainly I don’t see tons of e-readers,” says sweet pea Flaherty, who has been transitioning King’s Books from a used store with some new books to one with an even split of new and used since he purchased it in November.
In the South, in Asheville, N.C., Linda Barrett Knopp, general manager of Malaprop’s Bookstore/Cafe, has “positive expectations” for the summer. In April the store was up 6% over last year, and she credits the Asheville Grown Business Alliance with helping the store gain sales traction. Malaprop’s has also made a few adjustments to its stock, and added more remainder and sales books. “I don’t think those have replaced full-price book sales so much as they’ve been add-ons,” says Knopp, who notes that parents appreciate the children’s remainder paperbacks.
Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Ga., had an especially strong summer last year. June was up 15.5%; July, 24%. Co-owner Dave Shallenberger attributes the bump to summer camp. “I think our summer camps were better marketed last year, and even better this year,” he says. The store runs week-long camps for nine weeks during the summer, and the ones for this season are already sold out. Little Shop is also one of the few stores to add more inventory, 15 to 20% more, mostly in early readers and sidelines, in the wake of a nearby Borders closing.
Reading Reptile, a children’s bookstore in Kansas City, Mo., also expects a strong summer, although not all from books. Last year the store added a small bakery named for, and with cakes inspired by, Mike Artell’s Petite Rouge. However, there is another book that the store will be promoting heavily this summer: Fortune Cookies (Beach Lane) by Albert Bitterman (aka Pete Cowdin, co-owner of Reading Reptile), which is illustrated by Chris Raschka.
Cowdin/Bitterman is not the only bookstore owner with a new book to sell. At Blue Manatee Children’s Bookstore & Decafé in Cincinnati, owner John Hutton self-published a trio of board books on some things in childhood that matter most—Pet, Yard, and Blanket—as part of his Baby Unplugged series. He’s also selling the books as part of a gift set for babies, Blue Manatee Boxes, which are packaged with materials that encourage young children to play. To keep sales in the double digits, where they’ve been since the Christmas holidays, Blue Manatee is doing more face-outs of board books and picture books.
The bookselling view in parts of the North and Midwest is gloomier. “Last summer was definitely one of our worst,” says Joseph Barber, manager of Owl & Turtle Bookshop in Camden, Maine, who hopes to be even with it this year. “I feel like I can’t afford to be optimistic. We’re being very conservative as far as hiring and stock.” But he does anticipate doing well with children’s books. Chris Van Dusen and Melissa Sweet are among many area authors, and Owl & Turtle has been doing a children’s book fair every August for the past six years with the Camden Public Library.
Bookin’ It in Little Falls, Minn., also had a rough summer in 2010, down 12.3%, and the past two months have been off by 20%, according to owner Laura Hansen. She’s begun changing her product mix and recently added used books and baby books and plans to add more gift items and children’s books in place of underperforming categories like self-help and travel.
While rising gas prices could work against some stores, Diana Abbott, manager of the Bookworm in Omaha, Neb., anticipates the opposite effect. Not only are some customers planning on “staycations,” she says, but they are also giving up second homes. For Suzie Fischer, bookseller at The Bookies, a children’s store in Denver, staycations have been good for business. “If you’re not taking the vacation, you need something for the kids to do,” says Fischer. “Parents are coming in to get games, workbooks, and activity books.” And teachers are spending the rest of the money left in their budget on books. What Fischer has noticed is that while sales have been even or a little up over last year, sales patterns are different. “We’re seeing more peaks and valleys,” she says. “The whole rhythm has changed.”
By contrast, McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Mich., relies on those with second homes to shop the store. A 50¢ increase in gasoline may not stop them from coming, says manager Matt Norcross. But he is concerned that it might affect their buying habits. “Gas prices won’t affect us,” says Mark Ouillette, manager/buyer at The Bookloft in Great Barrington. The Berkshires, he notes, bills itself as “America’s premier rural area” and has cultural draws like Tanglewood. Still, Ouillette is not leaving sales to chance and has begun advertising with the local movie theater, upping the number of bargain titles, and adding more events.
Predictions about what will be hot this summer are as varied as those on summer sales. Although no single title has emerged as the must-have for the summer, a few new titles are expected to continue selling throughout camp/beach season. At Park Street Books, in Medfield, Mass., New England’s largest children’s bookstore, owner and buyer Jim James says, “Anything by Rick Riordan. Throne of Fire (Hyperion) will be big through the summer. Judy Moody already has a lot of staying power, and the latest Penderwicks, The Penderwicks at Point Mouette (Knopf), is a biggie.”
The Penderwicks also top bookseller Heather Hebert’s list of family summer reads for Children’s Book World in Haverford, Pa. But her favorite handsell this season is Libba Bray’s Beauty Queens (Scholastic). “Personally I am going to sell a copy to every teenager who walks into our store with that pained expression on their face as they hand us their required summer reading list,” says Hebert. “At least after I hand them the stack of dreaded required reading I can reward them with Beauty Queens, which is over the top hilarious, incredibly clever, and boatloads of fun, which really is what summer reading should be.” She also says that her customers are “eagerly” waiting for Kat Falls’s Rip Tide (Scholastic, Aug.), the sequel to Dark Life.
For the younger set’s parents, King’s Flaherty anticipates strong sales for Adam Mansbach and Richard Cortés’s picture book parody Go the F*ck to Sleep (Akashic). He’s also been doing well with “real” ones like Hervé Tullet’s Press Here (Chronicle) and Isol’s It’s Useful to Have a Duck (Groundwood). At Bookin’ It, one of Hansen’s favorite picture books for the summer is Douglas Wood’s No One But You (Candlewick). Mo Willems is “a perennial favorite” at Blue Manatee, and owner Hutton also expects customers to pick up Hooray for Amanda and Her Alligator (Balzer+Bray). The local connection for illustrator Loren Long has kept momentum going at the store for President Obama’s Of Thee I Sing (Knopf) and is also keeping Oliver Jeffers’s Up and Down (Philomel) up.
“It’s the panicky time when the shelves are very full and it’s quiet,” says Bear Pond children’s book buyer Jane Knight. “The kids aren’t out of school until the third week in June.” Later this month though she expects sales to pick up for some “great” picture books: Pam Smallcomb’s Earth to Clunk (Dial), illustrated by Joe Berger; Nikki McClure’s To Market, To Market (Abrams), illustrated with papercuts; and Amy Krouse Rosenthal’s This Plus That (HarperCollins), illustrated by Jen Corace. In terms of YA, Knight “dearly loves” two books that she’s planning to cross-market to adults: Maureen Johnson’s follow-up to 13 Little Blue Envelopes, The Last Little Blue Envelope (HarperTeen), and Michele Cooper’s The Fitzosbornes in Exile (Knopf).
Based on the responses of a vocal group of seventh-grade girls who read ARCs for her, Ellen Scott, children’s book buyer at the Bookworm, expects to do well with Josephine Angelini’s Starcrossed (HarperTeen) and Veronica Roth’s Divergent (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen). YA readers may still enjoy paranormal, says Scott, but they’re willing to take a chance on other stuff.
At Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena, children’s department head Kris Vreeland says summer reading lists have “quite an impact on sales. The lists are great for kids who are reluctant readers; they get excited about books.” The titles that get Vreeland most excited for young readers are Mary Quattlebaum and Alexandra Boiger’s Pirate vs. Pirate (Hyperion), Jennifer Satler’s Pig Kahuna (Bloomsbury), and Eve Bunting’s Tweak Tweak (Clarion), illustrated by Sergio Ruzzier.
John Stephens’s The Emerald Atlas (Knopf) is already selling “like hotcakes” for McLean & Eakin, according to Norcross. He’s already looking ahead to Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance (Knopf), the conclusion to the Inheritance Cycle, due out in November. Norcross is trying to presell hundreds of copies over the summer as part of his pitch for an in-store event with Paolini.
With reporting by Claire Kirch, Marc Schultz, and Wendy Werris.