A tough start to 2013 in many parts of the country, with record snowfalls, torrential rains, and tornadoes, plus the bombing in Boston, has made for a quiet year to date for many of the dozens of independent bookstores that PW contacted for its annual summer survey. In some areas the summer selling season has barely begun, as in Eastern Massachusetts, where harsh weather kept kids in school well past Memorial Day. Stil most booksellers are optimistic about the summer and the year as a whole.
“I’m choosing to believe it’s going to be an okay summer. It’s been a pokey spring. Gas is high, but not as high as it has been,” said Ellen Richmond, owner of Children’s Book Cellar in Waterville, Maine. For summer sales her store relies on visitors to nearby lakes and camps who drive up from Boston. “If Memorial Day is a good indicator of how summer is going to be, it’s going to be a good summer,” predicted Jennifer Wills Geraedts, co-owner of Beagle Books in Park Rapids, Minn., and Sister Wolf Books in Dorset, which is open only during the summer months. Governor Mark Dayton held his annual fishing opener in Park Rapids, which drew many visitors to the area.
“We’re doing pretty well. We did really well coming up to Easter. Then starting in mid-May, it’s been quieter,” said Trish Brown, co-owner of Hooray for Books! in Alexandria, Va., who expects an influx of tourists this summer. At Island Books in Middletown, R.I., “sales are the same or down a little bit. The economy isn’t picking up the way the media indicated,” said owner Judy Crosby, who has more than made up the difference with the opening of a second store in nearby Newport last fall. Fiction Addiction in Greenville, S.C., moved to a larger space last summer, but hasn’t been able to retain its customer base. “That’s our challenge,” said owner Jill Hendrix. “to get actual traffic back in the store. We’re having a good year, but it’s one-off stuff. I’m not pessimistic, I’m just cautiously optimistic.”
Some stores are just plain up. BookPeople in Austin, Tex., is anticipating record-breaking sales again this year. So is Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, Calif., where sales rose more than 20% last summer because of the closing of a nearby Borders. Owner Casey Coonerty is looking for a “blow-out” second quarter. “We’ve held onto our Borders bump, and continue to grow,” she said.
The new stores PW spoke with, open four years or less, are more than meeting projections. Avid Bookshop in Athens, Ga., which opened in October 2011, saw sales rise double digits at the start of the second quarter: 20% in April and 12% in May. At the Fountainhead Bookstore in Hendersonville, N.C., which opened in 2010, sales have gone up by 15.5% for the year. And a few stores are benefitting from bad weather elsewhere, like Island Bookstore, with three stores on North Carolina’s Outer Banks (in Duck, Corolla, and Kitty Hawk). “We’re seeing people who normally go to the Jersey Shore,” said co-owner Bill Rickman. “Week by week sales are noticeably increasing. “We didn’t get hit by Sandy like people north of us.”
Strong tourism is another reason for optimism among booksellers like Jack Beagan at Apostle Islands Booksellers in Bayfield, Wisc. Michigan, too, anticipates increased visitors, up 30–35%, according to Matt Norcross, co-owner of McLean & Eakin in Petoskey. Top-line revenue has already been growing at his store during the first half of the year. He attributed increases to new programs like book fairs, streamlining co-op, and keeping employee hours under control.
Jill Krebs, owner of Hill Avenue Book Co., in Spirit Lake, Iowa, where a number of people from Des Moines and Omaha own second homes, saw sales rise 20% last year at her second store, open Memorial Day to Labor Day, at the Central Emporium in Arnolds Park. The jump was largely due to moving the store from the basement level to the main floor. Still, sales are tending up a little this year, too. “Kindle has taken its toll, but people are coming back to books,” she said.
What Do Kids Want?
While sales for Suzanne Collins’s Hunger Games trilogy (Scholastic) and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton) may have dropped off at many stores from last summer’s highs, Rachel Renée Russell’s Dork Diaries series is still going strong, with number six, Tales from a Not-So-Happy Heartbreaker (S&S/Aladdin), topping many bookstores’ kids list.
Other children’s books and series with staying power include R.J. Palacio’s Wonder (Knopf), published a year and a half ago, and Pete the Cat (HarperCollins). “Anything with beach scenes on the front is doing well for us,” says Robin Allen, owner of Forever Books in St. Joseph, Mich., whose customers are grabbing Pete the Cat: Pete at the Beach and Pete the Cat: Play Ball!, both created by James Dean. Sarah Dessen’s name also popped up on bestseller lists at a number of stores, like Hooray for Books!, which has been doing particularly well with her new novel, The Moon and More (Viking).
And the much beloved Waldo is back next month. Stores like Bookshop Santa Cruz that drew hundreds of participants for last year’s Candlewick/ABA Where’s Waldo? promotion, which encouraged kids to find Waldo in neighborhood stores, are doing it again. Even bookstores that don’t typically hold events during the summer months, like Forever Books, were among the 265 bookstores that signed on to work with local businesses so kids can find Waldo, up from 250 in 2012.
But one new title in particular stands out this summer, Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave (Putnam), which was universally named a top seller by surveyed stores from Alaska to Virginia. PW gave it a starred review, calling it the start of “a gripping SF trilogy about an Earth decimated by an alien invasion.” David Cheezem, co-owner of Fireside Books in Palmer, Ala., described it as “The Hunger Games on steroids,” and regards it as one of the store’s big kids’ books, along with screenwriter-playwright Paul Rudnick’s first YA novel, Gorgeous (Scholastic Press).
At Avid Bookshop, which is about 70% adult and 30% kids’ titles, new releases like Mark Goldblatt’s Twerp (Random House) and Tom McNeal’s Far Far Away (Knopf) are off to strong starts, as is Siege and Storm (Holt) from Leigh Bardugo’s Grisha trilogy. Valerie Welbourne, owner of the Fountainhead Bookstore, is looking forward to the second volume in Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories series, The Enchantress Returns (Little, Brown), due in August, and predicts that Ruta Sepetys’s Out of the Easy (Philomel) will continue to be big for adults and teens through the summer.
McLean & Eakin co-owner Jessilynn Norcross has two favorite read-alouds this summer: Victoria Jamieson’s Pest in Show (Dial) and Mac Barnett’s Count the Monkeys (Disney-Hyperion), illustrated by Kevin Cornell. In addition to hosting Jon Klassen next month, Norcross is organizing children’s cooking workshops on Sunday in July and August, and is planning authorless events with a “Tea Rex” party for Molly Idle’s Tea Rex (Viking) and an octopus-themed party for Divya Srinivasan’s Octopus Alone (Viking). It’s a bear, bear world at Beagle Books, where co-owner Jennifer Will Geraedts says that customers can’t get enough of the critters, especially Michelle Myers Lachner’s Finding Hope (Adventure Publications), which is “selling like crazy.”
Changing It Up
Diversification has been key for Titcomb’s Bookshop in East Sandwich, Mass. “We’re doing a lot more remainders. We added toys a number of years ago and are even selling Legos,” said manager Vicky Titcomb, who is ringing through fewer summer reading titles. “Everybody’s got e-readers. In our high school, they gave iPads to freshmen and sophomores.”
Rickman of Island Bookstore has added more sidelines. Last year, he brought in hand puppets from the U.K., Out of Print T-Shirts, and matchboxes painted with cover art. This year he is adding incense after seeing an advertisement for it with Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books in Miami. McLean & Eakin upped its stationery and paper product offerings after a nearby Hallmark store closed, while Vicki Erwin at 20-year-old Main Street Books in St. Charles, Mo., cut back on toys other than plush and puzzles.
Like many children’s specialty stores, Children’s Book Cellar is trying to find space for more adult books. “I’ve been cherrypicking the Indie Next list,” Richmond said. “But I’d like to have a full-blown fiction and nonfiction section.” She’s picked up traffic after the closing of the Mr. Paperback chain. She likes to make room for books by local children’s authors, like Jennifer Richard Jacobson’s Small as an Elephant (Candlewick) and Maria Padian’s Jersey Tomatoes Are the Best (Ember), and she carries adult Mainers like Kathie Pelletier, Stephen King, Richard Russo, and Ron Currie, Jr.
Locally themed and authored books are also important at Apostle Islands, which continues to do well with Gary D. Robson’s Who Pooped in the Northwoods? (Farcountry), illustrated by Robert Rath; and 1942 Caldecott Honor book Paddle-to-the Sea (Sandpiper) by Holling C. Holling. The store also gets a strong hometown boost. “The locals understand that if the bookstore is going to stay here, they’d better support it,” said Beagan.
At Mrs. Nelson’s Toy and Book Shop in LaVerne, Calif., buyer Amanda Brillas is “very optimistic” about a strong summer in part because of a changed layout. The store now arranges books by age group rather than hardcover, picture book, or paperback format. “This has definitely increased our sales,” she said. In July Mrs. Nelson’s is partnering with the 1,700-member SoCal Etsy Guild on its Kids Pop-Up Shop, which will overlap with the store’s annual summer sale. In addition, Mrs. Nelson’s is bringing back book clubs for middle-school students to adults, after taking a hiatus from them. Just launched is one on “Books You Should Have Read in High School.”
But the summer season isn’t only about the bottom line. One of the summer projects that Bill Reilly, co-owner of The River’s End Bookstore in Oswego, N.Y., most looks forward to is the Oswego Bookmobile. Now in its third year, it gives free books to at-risk kids from the Fourth of July to the end of August. “It’s all about promoting reading,” Reilly said. “We are thrilled to be a part of that.” In the end, that’s what children’s bookselling is really about.
With reporting by Claire Kirch, Wendy Werris, and Paige Crutcher.