It may still be summer, but it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas for children’s booksellers, who are already making their holiday order lists and checking them twice. With pandemic-imposed restrictions eased nationwide and generally strong sales in the book sector, booksellers’ forecasts for the fast-approaching holiday push are mostly bright. But the effects of the Covid-19 crisis continue to present new challenges, including significant disruptions along the book industry supply chain.
“We are optimistic about the holiday season being busy and successful,” says Brein Lopez, manager of Children’s Book World in Los Angeles.
Ellen Klein, owner of Hooray for Books! in Alexandria, Va., says, “I’m buying in anticipation of a strong third and fourth quarter—wide and deep, to the extent we have enough bookshelves. I’m actually bringing in more bookcases!”
But high spirits are tempered with caution. Lopez notes, “We have transitioned back to nonpandemic buying patterns and are focusing on stocking up on big fall titles and 2021 book blockbusters for holiday gifts. We don’t want to come up short if there could be shortages later in the year.” He adds, “We are focused on expanding our selection of French- and Spanish-language children’s books as well as our toy and sideline inventory.”
Jeffrey Blair, co-owner of EyeSeeMe African American Children’s Bookstore in University City, Mo., a St. Louis suburb, shared his holiday prep blueprint: “We are in the process of researching potential hot titles that will come out through the end of the year,” he says. “We are also ordering earlier this year in hopes of avoiding any last-minute issues. We hope that we do not see another Covid-19 wave or delays with the post office. So we will probably order a little extra stock just in case.”
For Adriene Rister, owner of Spark Books children’s bookstore in Aspinwall, Pa., just north of Pittsburgh, “sticking to what we know sells and not taking big risks” is a key strategy. “We’re leaning hard into series and authors we know we can sell or build bundles with. Graphic novels have been flying off the shelves, and the genre just keeps growing. In addition, backlist has been huge for us during the pandemic and has continued into the summer,” she adds.
But Rister has already experienced hiccups with sideline orders. “Our toy manufacturers and reps keep urging us to buy now if we can afford it, and if not, put in orders for future ship dates because the toy industry is seeing extensive delays and supply-chain issues,” she says. “It took six months for me to get a restock of puzzles from one particular distributor.” And with other manufacturers that have typically had very quick turnarounds, she adds, “I put in a $1,000 restock order, and I may get $150 worth of merchandise; everything else is backordered with no ETA.”
Klein intends to go big, filling her new bookcases as a buffer against any inventory glitches. “We’ve survived two floods, two government shutdowns, and a Metro shutdown—in addition to Covid-19—so I’m not fearful about the future,” she says. “My only concern is the supply chain, so, to minimize restock issues, I’m buying deep enough to get us through the holidays.”
Lopez of Children’s Book World says, “We plan to remain open but will continue to require masks for staff and customers until Covid-19 vaccines are an option for children.” He notes that the store will reappraise its event and mask policy next year.
All of the stores that shared holiday planning with PW are also offering personalized customer subscription services that, Blair points out, “parents can use for their children, or loved ones can use as a great holiday gift for the children in their lives.”
At Children’s Book World, Lopez says customers can expect a few weeks-long author signing events for holiday gifts, allowing them to order personalized books from such popular local authors as Pete Oswald and Danica McKellar. “We also always have our annual holiday book drives,” he notes, “where our customers purchase new books for donation to nonprofits supporting kids and families in our community.”
Meanwhile, Klein says that Hooray for Books! will be hosting in-person author events and is preparing for the return of a long-standing store favorite event. “We’re planning to have Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus here,” she adds, “as we have in the past.”