Flat was the new up between June 1 and August 30 at many bookstores that participated in PW’s informal survey of 20 stores throughout the country. Many had had strong years in 2015 and were trying to make up for last summer’s sales bump from Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, which drew both adult and teen readers. “Last year was a terrific year,” said Nancy Felton, co-owner of Broadside Bookshop in Northampton, Mass., who was happy that the store could meet last year’s figures. For Felton, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts 1 & 2 (Scholastic/Levine) was “the big book of summer. It slowed down a little bit, [but] we think we’re going to sell it through the holidays.” She’s not alone. Stores across the country have done well with Cursed Child. Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park, Calif., has sold 750 copies to date. And general bookstores as well as specialty children’s stores regard it as one of the big books of the summer, if not the biggest book.
A short move to a neighboring location a year and a half ago drove up sales 7.3% for the first six months of the year at the 29-year-old Briar Patch in Bangor, Maine, said marketing director Gibran Graham. But as others reported, the store received an additional lift in July and August from Cursed Child, especially given that its midnight event intended for 200 people ended up drawing 10 times that number. “People had a great time,” said Graham. “This was the busiest two hours we’ve ever seen.” Since then the store keeps reordering the book and selling it out.
At Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minn., where walk-in sales were up almost 9% compared to last summer, Harry Potter also provided a “nice boost,” according to owner Holly Weinkauf. The store held two Harry Potter parties, one at midnight and a brunch the next day. Two of the store’s other bestsellers, David LaRochelle and Mike Wohnoutka’s This is NOT a Cat! (Sterling) and Kelly Barnhill’s The Girl Who Drank the Moon (Algonquin Young Readers), were books for which it held launch parties.
Some booksellers don’t regard the new Harry Potter as a kids’ title. “It has sold more to adults than young readers,” said Marlene England, owner of Curious Iguana in Frederick, Md., a three-year-old general bookstore spin-off of 16-year-old Dancing Bear Toys and Gifts. At her store, part of the appeal has been the nostalgia factor, and most of the people at Curious Iguana’s midnight release party were millennials.
Sales at Curious Iguana rose 22% from June through August over last year. But still England worries that customers don’t realize that the bookstore is only 100 steps from the toy store. (She counted them.) So England is going to begin hosting more bookstore events at Dancing Bear, like an upcoming one with Jacqueline Davies for Panda Pants (Knopf).
Changing Things Up
A number of bookstores have tried new things. “Usually summer would be a quiet time for us,” said Andy Laties, general manager of Bank Street Books in New York City. But this summer the bookstore created a pop-up store with a few hundred titles at the Pratt Manhattan Gallery. The shop, which went up July 12 and will come down on September 15, was created in conjunction with an exhibit curated by Leonard Marcus on “The Picture Book Reimagined.” It explores the impact on children’s literature of two New York institutions: Bank Street’s parent, Bank Street College of Education, which is celebrating its centennial this year, and the Pratt Institute, which turned 125.
At the beginning of the year, Brilliant Books in Traverse City, Mich., decided to revamp and expand its children’s nonfiction section. “Customers seem to really appreciate the expanded selection and dedicated nook,” said owner Peter Makin. Sales at the store as a whole were up 5% over last summer, with year-over-years sales for children’s books and YA up 23% and 12%, respectively. Popular titles included Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot (Little, Brown), Sara Pennypacker and Jon Klassen’s Pax (HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray), which has just been longlisted for an NBA, and Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow (Dutton). Two picture books also stood out: Jo Witek and Christine Roussey’s In My Heart: A Book of Feelings (Abrams) and Kathy-jo Wargin’s 1998 classic, The Legend of Sleeping Bear (Sleeping Bear Press).
Pam Erlandson, who owns 42-year-old A Children’s Place in Portland, Ore., is still adjusting to last year’s move to a more affordable location, as close as possible to where the store had been for the past 15 years. It’s also half the size. But it hasn’t always been easy since the move. “Portlanders love their neighborhood,” said Erlandson, who has had to rely on attracting new customers, even though a number of long-time customers followed her to the new location. Having Glee star Chris Colfer, author of the Land of Stories series (Little, Brown), appear at the store helped, as did Waldo titles, which got a lift in July from the annual Find Waldo local promotion.
“I’m thinking we will finish the year even better than last year. And last year was our best year since I’ve been at Red Balloon,” said Weinkauf, who purchased Red Balloon in 2011. That’s because of a remodel of the main floor, which was in mid-August, although Paz & Associates completed the floor plan nearly two years ago. “The store feels much more welcoming and very kid-friendly,” said Weinkauf. “We added more color and our layout allows us to highlight more titles.”
Not all successful changes were big. The one thing that Sally Sue Lavigne, new owner of the six-year-old Storybook Shoppe in Bluffton, S.C., did this summer that gave the store the biggest bump was an ice cream social/book swap. She asked people to bring two books, and she contributed some books as well. Forty-five kids attended the event, so many that Lavigne had to move it from her 450 sq. ft. space to a park behind the shop.
Most booksellers were optimistic about the fall and the all-important fourth quarter. At Forever Books in St. Joseph, Mich., which recently streamlined its inventory, one author who continues to have a strong presence is Jeff Kinney. Owner Robin Allen is especially looking forward to Double Down, Diary of a Wimpy Kid #11 (Abrams. Nov. 1). Makin at Brilliant Books is expecting strong holiday sales for another tried and true series, the new illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Scholastic/Levine), with art by Jim Kay, which is already picking up pre-orders at the store.
Bank Street’s Laties expects to do particularly well with Andrea Beaty and David Roberts’s Ada Twist, Scientist (Abrams). Over the summer he saw strong sales for Mark Pett’s Lizard from the Park (S&S), which particularly appealed to visitors looking for a memento to take home from the city (the book is set in NYC). Beaty’s book is also a favorite of JoAnn Fruchtman at Children’s Book Store in Baltimore, who calls the collaborators’ whole series “terrific.” She also recommended Melissa Sweet’s Some Writer!: The Story of E.B. White (HMH) and local Baltimore author Kenneth Oppel’s Every Hidden Thing (S&S) as “wonderful and scary.”
Graham at the Briar Patch anticipates sales continuing strong for Lynn Plourde’s Maxi’s Secret (Penguin/Paulsen). He’s also excited by new Mainer and Newbery Medalist Sharon Creech’s latest book, Moo (HarperCollins). Jennifer Green, owner of Green Bean Books in Portland, Ore., also looks forward to selling Brendan Wenzel’s They All Saw a Cat (Chronicle); Jon Klassen’s latest hat book, We Found a Hat (Candlewick); and Grace Lin’s When the Sea Turned to Silver (Little, Brown), which was long-listed for the NBA.
Despite a tendency for the presidential election season to be disruptive, most booksellers expect smooth selling ahead. “If anything, the elections could help us,” said Red Balloon’s Weinkauf. “We’re a place where people can come with their kids and enjoy themselves, connect with other readers, and just relax. As we get closer to November we may all need that.”