”Although less bleak than last year, Black Friday was by no means a slam dunk for retailers this year. The National Retail Federation reported that while there was a bump in foot traffic from last year, consumers, on average, spent less money. The organization reported that 195 million shoppers hit the stores and shopped online, up from 172 million last year. But, the average shopper spent $343.31, down from $372.57 last year, with total sales reaching $41.2 billion. PW spoke to booksellers throughout the country to see how they felt the biggest shopping day of the year was going for them; on the whole, many felt optimistic, with strong sales from Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, and Sarah Palin.

Wholesaler Bookazine noted that it's been an especially tricky season since publishers are doing tighter print runs (or trying to), and because it’s a shorter season with just three weekends left before Christmas. Booksellers in New England are also struggling with the shorter holiday season and in the Northeast, weather can be a key factor in whether customers make it out to the stores... and how often.

Jeff Mayersohn, owner of Harvard Book Store, echoed what many New England booksellers said when he called right now “exciting” and “difficult” times. “I’m often asked how the store is doing. The answer is that sales are down, as is the case with many retailers, but not catastrophically so.”

Laura Lucy, owner of White Birch Books in North Conway Village, N.H., said it's been a “strange” month: “It’s been a slower November overall, but this weekend pulled it back up. The shop local thing is sinking in.” Lucy said the book that sold best for her was Barbara Kingsolver's The Lacuna, beating out strong sellers John Irving (Last Night in Twisted River) and Stephen King (Under the Dome). Lucy added that she's also seen strong sales in used books.

Michael DeSanto, owner of Phoenix Books in Essex, Vt., was considering shuttering his doors at this time last year, but this year's strong sales gave him a change of heart. “It’s been a very good year,” he said. Although Black Friday and the following Saturday were not strong days for him, DeSanto reported that sales for November were up 6%, and that, for the last three months, sales have been up with very strong results in children's books.

Dale Szczeblowski, managing director of Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass., said Black Friday weekend was “better than normal” and that Alice Munro’s Too Much Happiness was “moving up nicely” along with the paperback Boston Noir by Dennis Lehane, Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, R. Crumb’s Genesis, and Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou's garphic novel Logicomix.

David Didriksen, president of Willow Books & Cafe in Acton, Mass., said Black Friday is historically not the busiest day of the year for him: “We were up a little bit for the week. We were down in volume, but up in profit.”

In the Midwest Lisa Baudoin, owner of Books & Co. in Oconomowoc, Wis., saw solid sales from a number of the season's big ticket memoirs; she got a boost from Sarah Palin, whose Going Rogue “did really well,” and also saw strong sales from Andre Agassi’s Open and Ted Kennedy’s True Compass. Bestsellers on the fiction side included Kingsolver’s The Lacuna, King’s Under the Dome, Brown’s Lost Symbol, and Patterson’s I, Alex.

Liz Murphy, owner of Learned Owl in Hudson, Ohio, called sales “fabulous, fabulous, fabulous,” saying that on Black Friday “the store was body-to-body full.” Although no single book was huge for Murphy, she said she did sell quite a few copies of The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robrt M. Edsel and Bret Witter, a book that has “just been catching people's eye.”

Mary Ellen Wood, general manager at Schuler's in Okemos, Mich., said Black Friday was “a very good day” and that the “usual suspects” did well with strong sales from Dan Brown, Stephen King, Sarah Palin, Barbara Kingsolver, and Dean Koontz. Wood added that Last Words: A Memoir by George Carlin with Tony Hendra and The Book of Basketball: The NBA According to the Sports Guy by Bill Simmons also made strong showings. Wood added that, surprisingly, Glenn Beck's children’s book is selling better than his adult title and that the Twilight books—including the hardcover boxed set—are “still booming.”

Diana Abbott, manager of the Bookworm in Omaha, Neb., was surprised that sales were as strong on Black Friday weekend as they were. This, despite the fact that “the big box stores had sales going on at the same time, and were giving heavy discounts.” She added that customers came in knowing what they wanted and there was no impulse buying. “There was more thoughtful buying of books you wouldn’t want to read just once, but, rather, books that you’d want to keep. It’s all about value and investing. We definitely see a trend.” With that said, one local title Abbott said has been “extremely hot” for her is Great Plains: America’s Lingering Wild by Nature Conservancy photographer Michael Forsberg, with an introduction by beloved and almost local poet Ted Kooser.

The only surprise sales-wise for Abbott was that Black Friday by Alex Kava did poorly. Kava is an Omaha native, and Abbott said, for a local author, she “did not see the response we anticipated.”

Vroman’s, in Pasadena, Calif., reported that sales were “slightly down” over last year with some standout sellers over the holiday weekend including Push by Sapphire, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabth Strout, and The Private Patient by P.D. James.

At Village Books in Bellingham, Wash., the word was that sales were nearly equal to this time a year ago. Aside from selling the big fall titles and a few backlist strongholds—Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain and Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian—the store also saw strong results from the first book published on its Espresso machine, Impressions of the Northern Cascades.

At the Opera Plaza location of San Francisco’s Books Inc. manager Carlton Peck also thought sales held from last year and “the numbers were about the same.” And Tom Gartner, who managed the store’s Marina location, said the store was up only about $500 over a typical weekend, but that, as many booksellers noted, Black Friday weekend is “never a huge weekend for us.”