For bookstores in vacation destinations, the summer can be the equivalent of other stores' holiday selling season. But this summer could be a bit quieter than last, 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., pointed 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." That didn't stop her from opening a second Rivendell location in the Berlin (Vt.) Mall in a former Waldenbooks store earlier this year.
Nor has it deterred customers in many parts of the country from going to bookstores. "We still have a healthy demand for print," said 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," said 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. "We're a little bit sheltered from Amazon," added Mark Leach, owner of the 600-sq.-ft. Now Voyager Bookstore and Gallery in Provincetown, Mass., which relies on summer day-trippers. "We're at the end of the world, and people who come here are looking for something to get in their hands right now. I have people coming in saying, ‘I have a Kindle, but I still have to buy a book every once in a while.' "
Carol Chittenden, owner of Eight Cousins in Falmouth, Mass., a children's specialty store that has added more adult titles, had a different reason to be optimistic this summer. "Partly," she said, "because we think the economy is coming back, and we're the only bookstore in town." Both nearby independents closed during the past year. Things are looking up on the islands off of Cape Cod as well. "Indications are that island commerce is going to be a little brisker this summer. We've already witnessed slightly higher traffic this spring," said David LeBreton, owner of Edgartown Books on Martha's Vineyard.
Farther south, in Tampa, Fla., Inkwood Books co-owner Leslie Reiner is projecting strong sales this summer, even though she'll be going up against numbers that include an event with Chelsea Handler last year. Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe in Asheville, N.C., has added more remaindered paperbacks and sale books. "I don't think those have replaced full-price book sales so much as they've been add-ons," said general manager Linda Barrett Knopp. Sales were up 6% in April, and she expects them to continue to be up.
The picture in the North and parts of the Midwest is gloomier. "Last summer was definitely one of our worst," said Joseph Barber, manager of Owl & Turtle Bookshop in Camden, Maine, who hopes to be even with it this year. "We're being very conservative as far as hiring and stock." 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. She's also taking out 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 said, they are also giving up second homes. By contrast, McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Mich., relies on those with second homes. An increase in gasoline prices may not stop them from traveling, said manager Matt Norcross, but it might affect their buying habits. "Gas prices won't affect us," said Mark Ouillette, manager/buyer at the Bookloft in Great Barrington, Mass. The Berkshires, he noted, bills itself as "America's premier rural area," with cultural draws like Tanglewood. Still, Ouillette 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 also vary by region, although a few titles do recur, including David McCullough's The Greater Journey, Erik Larson's In the Garden of Beasts, Ann Patchett's State of Wonder, and Geraldine Brooks's Caleb's Crossing. Nor is price a barrier for the right book. At the Bookstore Plus in Lake Placid, N.Y., co-owner Marc Galvin said that he continues to sell Kelly Klein's Horse ($150) and is excited about Gladys Montgomery's $75 coffee-table book, An Elegant Wilderness.
Lisa See's Dreams of Joy, the paperback of Adam Levin's The Instructions, George R.R. Martin's A Dance with Dragons, and Alice LaPlante's Turn of Mind top Conklin's fiction list at Chaucer's. At King's, Flaherty was excited about Go the F*ck to Sleep. And in New England, Benedict predicted strong sales for J. Courtney Sullivan's Maine, which she calls "a great summer read and great character study."
—Reporting by Claire Kirch, Marc Schultz, Wendy Werris