Publishers Weekly crowned its 31st annual bookstore and 25th annual sales rep of the year at U.S. Book Show on May 22. In a virtual awards ceremony, PW editorial director Jim Milliot named Midtown Scholar in Harrisburg, Pa., PW’s Bookstore of the Year. Emily Bates, senior manager for in-house sales of Penguin Random House adult titles, earned the distinction of being named PW’s Sales Rep of the Year.
In addition to Midtown Scholar, 2023 bookstore finalists included the Edmonds Bookshop (Edmonds, Wash.), Harvey's Tales (Geneva, Ill.), Interabang Books (Dallas, Tex.), and Main Street Books (Lafayette, Ind.). Along with Bates, nominees for sales rep of the year included Mark Fleeman (Fujii Associates), Julie Isgrigg (Hachette Book Group), Tom Leigh (Macmillan), and Ty Wilson (Publishers Group West). PW solicits nominations from authors, distributors, booksellers, publishers, and other literary partners for the two awards each February, and profiles five finalists each May. A new call for nominees will go out in 2024.
Milliot welcomed the audience to the announcement, noting that it is the fourth year that PW has presented its Bookstore of the Year and Rep of the Year virtually. "Maybe next year, we'll able to do this in person, which will make everybody happy," he said, before announcing Bates as this year's rep of the year.
"Thank you, PW, for this incredible honor," Bates said, laughing at the memory of her mother persuading her to apply for a position in PRH's telemarketing department 14 years ago when she was a bookseller, and having to be convinced that it would not entail her calling booksellers during their lunch breaks to talk up the latest John Grisham release.
After thanking her parents and her husband for their support, Bates thanked her colleagues at PRH for their hard work, especially the customer service department, "the unsung heroes" of the publishing industry. Bates concluded by thanking indie booksellers for building community, "finding just the right books" to put into customer hands, and for providing "a safe space for people just looking for understanding."
Noting that "we are truly lucky to be in the publishing industry," Milliot then announced PW's Bookstore of the Year.
Midtown Scholar co-owners Catherine Lawrence and Eric Papenfuse accepted Milliot's congratulations. “We are so honored,” said Lawrence, who thanked the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association “for helping us grow and transition from being a small walkup used bookstore and online ecommerce [site] into a massive new and used bookstore with author talks. We’d like especially to thank our customers for being supportive of us through the difficult times of Covid and into the future. We are looking forward to what comes next.”
“It all began with a pile of books in our dining room” and grew to a renovated movie theater space, Papenfuse added, panning the camera around the spacious downstairs level as a crowd of bookstore staffers cheered the award.
Midtown Scholar Bookstore, a general-interest store that occupies two substantial storefronts across from a historic farmers’ market in Harrisburg, celebrates its 20th anniversary as a bricks and mortar location this year. Owners Lawrence and Papenfuse grew their business from a used-book online portal to 15,000 square feet of retail space with a staff of 50. They’ve helped revitalize their neighborhood, gradually renovating a former post office and an old theater next door, demonstrating a commitment to Harrisburg as a destination for literary culture and political debate.
Midtown Scholar encourages leisure and family time in the Counter Culture Coffee café, expansive children’s section, and rare book and collectibles annex. Throughout the year, the store brings award-winning authors to town, hosting them on a main-floor stage. Papenfuse, who served two terms as mayor of Harrisburg, touts the city’s location as a crossroads among other major East Coast destinations.
In 2009, he and Lawrence launched the annual Harrisburg Book Festival, and as the event grew, they named Alex Brubaker as its director. This year’s festival takes place Oct. 18-22, and includes featured authors, a full day of children’s programming, a used-book tent sale, and writing workshops. Midtown Scholar has grown from a startup to a community keystone, encouraging restaurants and other small businesses to put down roots in Pennsylvania’s diverse capital city.
Bates, who is based in Westminster, Md., describes herself as a “jack-of-all-trades” rep: she sells to and services remotely a variety of indie bookstore accounts across the country, although she does makes in-person calls upon two western Maryland indies: Curious Iguana in Frederick and A Likely Story in Sykesville.
Bates calls her far-flung accounts a “wonderful mix” of both new and established stores. In an email nominating Bates as rep of the year, Barbara Peters, the owner of the Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, Ariz., praised Bates and her team for their heroic efforts in helping indie bookstores navigate “the challenging terrain” of post-pandemic bookselling. But their greatest accomplishment, Peters wrote, was facilitating the launch of Diana Gabaldon’s latest Outlander novel, Go Tell the Bees That I am Gone – which involved transporting 30,000 books to Scottsdale.
“It was quite a feat,” Bates admits. “Everybody had to fire on all cylinders for that one. I’m proud to have been part of that.”
While Bates must be nimble in dealing with such a variety of accounts in all four mainland U.S. time zones, she ascribes her success to one constant: whether she is making an in-person call upon a store in Maryland, telephoning a store in rural Minnesota, or having 30,000 books shipped to Arizona, Bates makes sure that she completely understands the formula that each store uses to curate its inventory and how she can assist them to maximize their profits. "After all, she says, “I know that with all the bookstores I’m calling, their time is money.” It’s “very fulfilling” work, she adds. “There’s something new every day.”