It was a busy few days at Minneapolis’ Renaissance Hotel at the historic Milwaukee Road Depot October 2-5, the site of the American Booksellers Association’s first Events Specialty Institute, which was immediately followed by the first Heartland Fall Forum,which ran October 3-5. The Institute drew 90 booksellers and prospective booksellers from across the country to hear from veteran booksellers, publishers, and even author Kate DiCamillo on how best to plan and execute stellar events. The Heartland Fall Forum, the joint trade show held by the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association and the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association, had 770 total attendees.The first Heartland forum was described by many as the best regional gathering they’d attended in years. It included a jam-packed day of education that incorporated such GLIBA traditions as the “Ideas That Work” common session and “What’s the Buzz?” sessions of handselling favorites for both adults and children.

Almost 400 booksellers – 283 MIBA members and 81 GLIBA members, coming from as close as the University of Minnesota Bookstore about a mile away and as far away as Carmichael’s, in Louisville, Kentucky, 700 miles away, browsed 77 exhibits, representing hundreds of companies. The aisles in the exhibit hall -- a converted 19th-century train shed -- were crowded the entire day; when the Wisconsin Historical Society Press started passing out glasses of Leinenkugel beer and signed copies of Bottoms Up: A Toast to Wisconsin’s Historic Bars and Breweries (Sept.) by Jim Draeger and Mark Speltz at 3 p.m., it became impossible to walk down that aisle.

“We’re so pumped to be here; the energy is amazing,” commented Ruth Liebmann, Random House’s director of account marketing, one of a number of industry heavyweights from major New York City houses spotted at the show. “Combining the shows was a great idea,” Jerry Bilek, the owner of Monkey See, Monkey Read Books in Northfield, Minnesota, said. “There are a lot more people here this year. It seems more vibrant.” His sentiments were echoed by Roberta Rubin of the Book Stall at Chestnut Court in Winnetka, Illinois, who pointed out, “There’s more acceptance that we really have to band together that gives people energy. We’re not alone.”

The show’s exuberance was amplified by the presence of 110 authors, including an A-list of literary stars, such as Garrison Keillor, Louise Erdrich, Justin Cronin, David Small, and Patricia MacLachlan.

Cronin, whose novel, The Twelve, is scheduled for release by Ballantine on Oct. 16, endeared himself to all at the adult author breakfast by telling the audience that he was going to read from The Twelve, “not because it’s 8 a.m. in the morning and I’m lazy, but because I wanted my inaugural reading from the book to be with you.” If there was one book – besides Bottoms Up, of course -- that created a huge buzz at the show, it had to be The Lighthouse Road (Unbridled, Oct.) by Peter Geye, who spoke at the adult author breakfast and was part of the winning team at the Quiz Bowl competition of literary knowledge that night. Booksellers were so enthusiastic about The Lighthouse Road that both MIBA and GLIBA members lined up after the breakfast, holding copies of the book, while Unbridled’s co-publisher, Greg Michalson, took photos for a promotional campaign to be rolled out at the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association show. Two MIBA member booksellers and a GLIBA member bookseller even formed a human pyramid, with Stacie Williams of Milwaukee’s Boswell Book Company on top, holding up her copy. Other books that especially resonated with both MIBA and GLIBA booksellers included Amy Leach’s Things That Are (Milkweed Editions, June) and Hans Weyandt’s Read This! Handpicked Favorites from America’s Indie Bookstores (Coffee House Press, Sept.). Weyandt, a bookseller, reports that 600 copies of Read This! have sold in the past month at his store, Micawber’s in St. Paul, Minnesota.

That the booksellers PW talked to are experiencing a very good year was also key to making the first Heartland forum an upbeat show. Chuck Wilder of Broadway Books in Williston, N.D. reported that sales are up 33% this year; his only complaint is that it’s tough hiring in an oil-boom town where jobs are plentiful and even fast-food workers are earning at least $15/hour. Sue Boucher of Lake Forest Books in Lake Forest, Ill. said that sales have been up as high as 30% during the past year, but right now are up 10%-20%. And Kevin Roberts of Azizi Books in Chicagoland reports that the 1,500-square-foot bookstore specializing in African-American titles that he opened in 2007 has expanded to 4,000 square feet with a more general inventory. Sales are up 25%, which Roberts ascribed to having branded his business, rather than relying on the mall in which the store is located to bring in customers.

The ABA’s session on the new partnership with Kobo was standing room only, with booksellers peppering ABA CEO Oren Teicher with questions that indicated their receptivity to the initiative, but also their desire for more information about the logistics. “I am so excited about the opportunity to sell devices to my customers,” Anne Storan, the owner of Paragraph Books in Mt. Vernon, Ohio, said afterwards. Her store doubled in size last year, and sales are up 12%. Explaining that even though her customers prefer print books, she’s already signed up for Kobo, declaring, “My customer is me. We are active people on the go, who also want to access content digitally.”

The Heartland Fall Forum will move east into GLIBA's territory next year; the second joint show is scheduled to take place at the Crowne Plaza Chicago O’Hare, on October 4-6, 2013.