If there was one thread woven through yesterday’s Legislative Day at the American Bookseller Association’s Winter Institute, it was “the resurgent vitality in independent bookselling,” which ABA president Michael Tucker, co-owner and CEO of San Francisco’s Books Inc., referred to at the opening session. That vitality was evidenced not only by the convention’s sellout audience of 500 booksellers, but by the number of new booksellers, soon-to-be booksellers, and frontline booksellers who came to the show: from Jamie Fiocca, Land Arnold, and Sarah Carr, the co-owners of year-old Flyleaf Books, to Teresa Kirschbraun, who is planning a summer opening for a store in Chicago.
PBS’s Jim Lehrer channeled that drive in his interview with Karen Mills, administrator of the Small Business Administration, as he tried to move her from her prepared notes. Even when he asked her to comment on something a bookseller told him, “what we really need is a tiny business administration,” an unruffled Mills made the case for SBA as a partner for bookstores and businesses of all sizes. “One of the things I noticed when I took this job was the SBA had a brand problem: too much paperwork, too much time. We now turn around loans in five to eight days once they’re complete.” The SBA has also raised its loan limits from $2 to $5 million, and Mills encouraged booksellers to use the SBA for loans to buy their buildings.
Just hours before the house voted to repeal the Health Care Act, Mills said that she’s on record for not wanting to repeal it and called access to affordable health care the number one concern of small businesses since 1987. She also cited statistics that businesses with three to nine employees account for one-third of the uninsured. Lehrer asked the audience to confirm Mills’s statement about health care and to find out if many booksellers had used the SBA for two of its main programs, loans and counseling. Yes and yes, with some raising both hands on health care.
Other programming focused on indie retail and activism. At a panel on using business for political change representatives of two independent retailers, Rick Karp, president of Cole Hardware in San Francisco, and Jakob Wolf-Barnett, operations manager of Revolution Cycles in Washington, D.C., joined bookseller Wendy Hudson, owner of Nantucket Bookworks in Nantucket, Mass., in offering tips on effecting change without alienating customers. Karp, for example, quickly learned that putting a candidate’s sign in a store window was not a successful tactic. However, he was able to keep the door closed to chains in San Francisco for 25 years by getting a coalition of businesses to help him in his fight to keep out Home Depot.
Hudson encouraged booksellers to be leaders in their community and to reach out to local and state officials to effect change. By having Senator John Kerry and others shop in her store, she soon recognized that politicians are just people. For Wolf-Barnett activism is one of the goals of the stores’ events programming, but not an overt one. Through trial and error he’s found that a bicycle tour of D.C.’s monuments or a ladies night bicycle workshop brings out far more people to sign petitions or get actively involved in attending legislative meetings than one based strictly on promoting legislation.
After an afternoon on capital hill meeting with their state’s senators, congressmen and women, or in a number of instances their aides, booksellers reconvened at the Library of Congress at a reception sponsored by the Center for the Book. There ABA CEO Oren Teicher presented NPR president and CEO Vivian Schiller with a plaque for the network of radio stations’ its “exemplary coverage of authors and books.” In her thank-you speech Schiller noted, “our mission is clear to celebrate and promote the joy of reading. NPR is and will continue to be your partner in celebrating books.” She also announced that NPR will pick up the slack as newspapers shrink their book coverage. NPR will increase from 50 to 60 book-based stories on the radio and half again online.
The day ended with drinks at a Workman-sponsored reception for frontline booksellers in memory of one of their own, Joe Drabyak.