After little more than a month of planning and a boost from Mayor Rahm Emanuel's official proclamation, Chicago Independent Bookstore Day was a huge success that exceeded the expectations of every participating bookstore that PW contacted. "It was like Book Christmas in July,” said Stefan Moorehead, Unabridged Books’ manager/ frontlist buyer and the brains behind Chicago Independent Bookstore Day which was held on July 12. Throughout Saturday and into the evening hours for some, nine bookstores across the Windy City partnered to draw in customers with author appearances, raffles, discounts, and other enticements, with publishers donating lots of swag. Participating stores ranged from Women & Children First in Andersonville, in the northern part of the city, all the way down to the south side, to 57th Street Books and the Seminary Coop, both in Hyde Park.
Sales were up 150% at Unabridged Books, Moorehead reported, noting that despite torrential rains in the morning, “one or two people” were already waiting outside when the store opened its doors. The store gave 10% discounts on books, raffled off tote bags and, like the other stores, held a drawing for one signed first edition hardcover copy of 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, donated by Knopf.
Women & Children First co-owner Linda Bubon said that sales were “almost three times a regular summer Saturday.” Despite the rain, the store filled up and remained “lively” all day, she said. Customers who made $10 purchases received two free galleys that they could select from library carts and were entered into a raffle for bags of five new books that had been donated by Penguin Random House.
“I don’t think we’ve had such a Saturday since Jimmy Carter,” Bubon said, “It felt like a holiday.” One customer, Bubon said, said she was visiting all the participating stores to pick up “starter packs” of puzzle pieces given out by all the stores. Each store received 20 packs of puzzle pieces that were to be handed out to customers making $30+ purchases; the offer is available as long as supplies last at each store through Aug. 3. When assembled, all the puzzle pieces form a frameable print by interdisciplinary artist and illustrator Lilli Carré. WCF ran out of its puzzle packs at 2 p.m.
Teresa Kirschbraun, the owner of two-year-old City Lit Books in Logan Square reported that it was the “third best day ever” in her store. Sales were, she reported, five times higher than sales on that day last year, despite those “monsoon rains” and, unlike most of the other participating stores, no discounts on books. The day “was just fantastic,” she added, with customers packing the store, beginning with a children’s story time session in the morning and continuing through reading/performances by Curbside Splendor authors in the afternoon. Kirschbraun noted that City Lit ran out of its Carré puzzle packs by noon.
At the Book Cellar in Lincoln Square, 160 cupcakes set out for customers were gone in a four hours, bookseller Derek Harmening said. “It was our best day of the summer in sales.” There were drawings every 30 minutes for customers to receive between 10-30% on their purchases. Customers who spent $50+ were entered into drawings for an ARC of David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks as well as a signed first edition of 1Q84. Sales were double what sales are on a typical Saturday in July, owner Suzy Takacs told PW.
Owner Brad Jonas said that sales at the Powell’s outlet in University Village, near the University of Illinois-Chicago campus, were “almost double” sales on a typical Saturday in July and that three author panels were well-attended. Sales at the Powell’s outlet near the University of Chicago on the city’s south side were also way above normal, although that store, which sells primarily used books, was not officially part of Chicago Independent Bookstore Day. Powell’s in University Village offered a 20% discount to customers who had visited one other participating bookstore, and a 30% discount to those who had visited more than one other participating bookstore that day. "But what was more important than sales – even though sales are important – is that people were talking about bricks-and-mortar bookstores,” Jonas noted, “The energy. People were so happy to be in a bookstore.”
A few blocks from Powell’s south side used bookstore, Tom Flynn, the manager of 57th Street Books, agreed with Jonas, reporting that sales were 50% above comparable days. “It was the best Saturday we’ve had, outside of [street] festival days,” he said.
“This was a tremendous success of a day,” Moorehead wrote in an email sent to PW Sunday afternoon. “Our Chicago book community was hungry for this. They want an excuse to celebrate indie bookstores in public and to share it with their friends. We gave Chicago a chance to show they care about us and they came through in an unprecedented over-abundance.”
“It was something that we put together on pretty short notice with little money,” Bubon noted, “And it was more successful than I ever expected."
Although no dates have been established, Moorehead said a second bookstore day will be held in 2015. That is good news to the indies who took part in this year's event, with a number telling PW not only do they want a second Chicago Independent Bookstore Day, but said they hope it will expand beyond the Windy City to include the independent bookstores in Chicago’s suburbs.