For the first time in three years, our budget is back in the black," announced the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Association's president, Kathy Westover, at the MPBA gathering in Denver, which ran September 16—20. Preparing to dip into the organization's savings, the association's board had budgeted for a $7,000 loss, but thanks to judicious cutting, the group found itself making a $27,938 profit.
"We had to look at every program and not just do everything as we had always done things," said Lisa Knudsen, who has been MPBA executive director for the last 19 years. "This forced us to innovate and start doing things in new ways. We revisited our mission on how to best serve bookstores in our region. And it turned out to be great for the organization and great for me. It's been a shot in the arm for us."
One of the ways MPBA cut back was replacing the multiple meetings it had conducted throughout the year in various states with one two-day spring meeting in central Denver. The group also consolidated its regional book awards into that same meeting. "We also cut back on our education," said Knudsen, noting that they instead turned to the ABA, "who has been wonderfully generous with their educational programs."
With all the cutbacks, the MPBA still found $4,000 to hire a lobbyist to battle a proposed Denver initiative that would bar bookstores from displaying titles "harmful to minors." "We were successful," said Knudsen. "It was money well spent."
The MPBA didn't cut back on innovations this year. It created its own regional spin on Book Sense's White Box mailing called "Kyle's Box", for which publishers supply galleys and promo material geared toward the region. The organization also accumulated enough bookstores reporting their bestseller lists to begin producing its own regional Book Sense bestseller list.
This was also a banner year as the MPBA welcomed 15 new stores as members. "That's more than double the number of stores that joined us last year," said Knudsen. Nine off the new stores opened in Colorado: ArmAzem in Denver; Becca's Books-N-Treasures in Strasburg; Chapters Bookstore & Café in Castle Rock; Cimarron Books & Coffee House in Ridgeway; Main Book Co. in Cortez; Misty Hills Books in Arvada; Muddpuppy's Coffee House in Monte Vista; Town Center Booksellers in Basalt; and Y.E.S.S. the Book Hutch, Durango. Two stores opened in Kansas: Town Crier Bookstore in Emporia and Winter Sun Books in Overland Park. Two bookstores opened in New Mexico: Andrea Kristina's Bookstore & Kafe in Farmington and Chama Valley Supermarket in Chama. The final two new bookstores were Wheatland Mercantile in Wheatland, Wyo., and Open Door in Sula, Mont.
The region lost four Colorado bookstores to closings: 35-year-old Polly Chandler's Bookstore in Georgetown, 45-year-old Chinook Bookshop in Colorado Springs, 20-year-old Valley Bookstore in Montrose and Prairie Books in Bennett. "Although we gained a lot of new stores this year," said Knudsen, "it's still sad when we lose stores that have been bedrocks in their communities."
Final attendance figures at the regional gathering were not available, but 87 bookstores had pre-registered for the weekend, and there were six more exhibitor booths sold at the trade show than last year. "At this point, the only way we can increase attendance at the trade show is by getting new small publishers, because of consolidations and absorbtions of publishing houses in the last four years," said Knudsen.
Among the booksellers at the show were an additional 19 people who had just graduated from a week-long prospective booksellers workshop conducted by Paz & Associates, co-sponsored by the ABA. "It's refreshing that we see people who understand the challenges of bookselling and are still excited about opening a bookstore," said Mark Kaufman, who teaches the classes with his wife, Donna Paz. John and Tina DiToma plan to open a bookstore in Denison, Tex., in 2005. "We didn't realize how involved the business was," said John. "But we came out of the classes more excited to open, even knowing the risks. We're more motivated to make it a success." William Forsythe, who plans to open a bookstore in Las Vegas next year, said he "pulled the plug on leasing a facility when we found out about this school. We're thrilled we did because it gave us an idea about the mountain of work it takes to open and run a bookstore." Kathleen Pacca, who is working toward opening a bookstore in Mehoopany, Pa., called Paz and Kaufman "a wonderful resource. It was an excellent experience and I'm leaving with realistic expectations on how to open a store."
Fred Durham graduated from the Paz training six months ago and just seven weeks ago opened Town Center Booksellers in the Aspen suburb of Basalt, Colo. "Donna and Mark are ambassadors to independent booksellers," Durham told PW. "One of the most important things they taught me was that to be a successful bookseller, you had to be a successful retailer. Thanks to them, I was able to hit the ground running." Enjoying the opportunity to network with other booksellers, Durham said, "The MPBA's regional show serves a huge purpose for booksellers in vast areas to get together with each other."
Some veteran booksellers in the region were battling the sluggish economy by becoming more aggressive. "School orders now account for 30% of our business," said Duane Gudgel, owner of the 13-year-old Plains Trading Co. in Valentine, Neb. "It took us eight years to gain the trust of the school on a local reservation, but our business has steadily grown with them. And they get grants all year round to spend on buying books and school supplies we stock."
There was great interest on the trade show floor to see the inaugural titles from Unbridled Press, the new independent press run by Greg Michalson and Fred Ramey, the editorial team behind McMurry and Beck. The press's first release, The Green Age of Asher Witherow by M. Allen Cunningham, has already been named the number one Book Sense Pick for October.
One of the most respected voices in bookselling, Betsy Burton, owner of the King's English in Salt Lake City, Utah, noted some forthcoming titles she'd enjoyed and couldn't wait to hand-sell. Kate Atkinson's Case Histories (Little, Brown, Nov.) was "a great read; it's a layered, clever puzzle that pulls you along." Margot Livesey's Banishing Verona (Holt, Nov.) was a "wonderful novel, totally entertaining. You care passionately about the characters. It's rare that I read a romance that doesn't put me off, but this is it." Of the current titles Burton is championing to customers, she thinks that Francisco Goldman's The Divine Husband (Atlantic Monthly) is "as if Mark Twain had invaded the brain of Isabel Allende to write this enchanting story," and Cynthia Ozick's Heir to the Glittering World (Houghton Mifflin) is "an amazing literary book; very strange, very serious and very good." She predicts Mark Spragg's An Unfinished Life (Knopf) "will be big now, and after the movie [starring Robert Redford and Jennifer Lopez] comes out after Christmas, it will be even bigger. You can sell this book to anybody, whether they like literary novels or just a good read."
The annual Gordon Saull award for Bookseller of the Year was given to Linda Brummett, manager of the 10,000-sq.-ft. general bookstore within the 110,000-sq.-ft. BYU Bookstore in Provo, Utah. Thirty-two years ago, Brummett took a job at the bookstore to work her way through college, and she never left. "It's been the joy and pleasure of my life to do that job all my life," she said. "I'm so proud to be in an industry that knows how to change and sustain its existence."
Brummett spoke to PW about the recent challenges the bookstore has faced: "Online has hit us. The whole campus is wired with outlets that kids can plug into, so we're becoming very blatant in our newsletter—pushy even—about appealing for sales. Every semester we employ 300 BYU students, so students have a vested interest in supporting us. The biggest change is that we've taken off our gloves and are telling our staff to emphasize selling over self-service."
Jeannie Dunham was named Rep of the Year. She is retiring after 16 years as a publisher rep (the last 14 of them with Wilcher Associates).