If the idea at last year’s Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance trade show was to get booksellers established in the community of Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, and other online social networking sites (with a cheeky “Get in Bed iith a Bookseller” theme), this year the focus was on the classic community-building strengths of independent bookstores IRL (that’s cyberspeak for In Real Life), highlighting what indies have been doing in their local communities to help break the stranglehold of big-box chains and online megaretailers.
“Don’t ever underestimate how much the local message is resonating with millions of consumers,” said American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher in Saturday morning’s session on the merger of the ABA with the Association of Booksellers for Children (ABC). “The explosion in America of farmers’ markets is evidence that consumers get it, but you’ve got to keep articulating that argument.” Leslie Reiner, ABC vet and co-owner of Inkwood Books in Tampa, Fla., suggested that argument be as succinct and free of whining as possible: “See it here, buy it here, keep us here!”
Held at Charleston, S.C.’s Embassy Suites convention center, this year’s show boasted a “Let’s Get Hitched” theme—complete with the actual wedding of longtime SIBA staffer Sara Malcolm to fellow bookworm Brandon Perry—encouraging booksellers to recommit themselves to the local community in deep, meaningful ways. It also made an apt backdrop for a packed convention floor that looked like a bit of a love fest, with a real sense of optimism for the changing fortune of local independent businesses. SIBA executive director Wanda Jewel reported, happily, that all booth space on the floor was sold out, as was the block of hotel rooms at the Embassy Suites, and all the overflow rooms down the road; in addition, the annual author auction raised $1,000, “just like in 2009 and 2010.”
The sense of optimism may explain the sparse attendance at a presentation by Paul V. Thomas of the Small Business Administration, who spoke to the availability of federal money (mostly in the form of loans and loan guarantees) and showcased the SBA’s nationwide network of business-owners-turned-advisers, called SCORE. Britaini Blackmon, store manager of The Bookworm in Powder Springs, Ga., was on hand not out of desperation but to make strong sales even stronger: Blackmon’s boss, owner Susan Smelser, said, “It’s amazing we’re doing so well.” Blackmon credits in-person outreach, which has generated enormous loyalty: several customers who’ve purchased e-readers in the past year have been bringing in replacement customers, who they’re proudly introducing to staff.
Arlington, Va.’s One More Page Books has been riding a wave of publicity following an indie bookstore overview in the Washington Post, what staffer Terry Nebeker described as “a ‘Borders-is closed/unlikely-resurgence-of-independent-bookstores?’ story.” According to Nebeker, the phone wouldn’t stop ringing in the week after the August article: “And it wasn’t just people wondering ‘Where are you, exactly?’ but also authors saying ‘I’d love to talk to you about doing an event.’”
Love for authors was also on display, as booksellers flooded book-signing events, author luncheons, book discussion panels, and Sunday night’s nuptials-cum-author auction, where the wedding party included authors like Ron Rash, Janisse Ray, Tom Franklin, Karen White, Eric Litwin, and Deborah Wiles (who served as flower girl). Buzzed-about titles for adults included The Healing by John O’Dell, The Rebel Wife by Taylor Polites, Robert K. Massie’s Catherine the Great, and Thomas Mullen’s The Revisionists; several children’s and YA booksellers mentioned Alma Katsu’s The Taker, Avi’s City of Orphans, and the gorgeous new nonfiction picture book from Kadir Nelson, Heart and Soul: The Story of America and African Americans.