Despite an abbreviated selling season of only 27 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas (2012 had a 32-day season, the longest possible), most booksellers contacted by PW were buoyed by good sales so far this year and anticipate a strong finish to 2014. “Business has been more than solid for the last several years,” said Ed Conklin, book buyer and manager at Chaucer’s Bookstore in Santa Barbara, Calif. His store got a boost when both Borders and Barnes & Noble pulled out of the area. “We are doing our best to keep that going by keeping good books flowing and providing excellent customer service,” he added.
“It has been a fantastic year,” noted Heather Hebert, manager of Children’s Book World in Haverford, Pa. Although the holiday season has been off to a good start with signings by authors like Jan Brett (The Animals’ Santa) and Sara Shepard (Pretty Little Liars), Hebert attributed the store’s higher sales to events tied to the store’s 25th-anniversary celebration.
Malaprop’s Bookstore in Asheville, N.C., was up 46% for the month of November going into Thanksgiving weekend. Although the numbers aren’t in yet, Alsace Walentine, events coordinator, expects store sales for Small Business Saturday, when 18 authors hand sold books, to beat last year’s.
Weather and football interfered with the start of the holidays at some stores. Thanksgiving weekend sales were down nearly 50% compared to the same period last year at eight-year-old Common Good Books in St. Paul, Minn. “Beginning Wednesday, the weather was very cold, with icy and snowy conditions,” said manager Martin Schmutterer. There were other conflicts on Small Business Saturday, including the Holidazzle street market in Minneapolis and the Minnesota-Wisconsin game. Schmutterer’s not worried about the holidays, though. Business has been “fantastic,” up 15% over 2013, he said.
A football game on Small Business Saturday and balmy weather on the last Sunday in November also tempered sales at Carmichael’s Bookstore, in Louisville, Kent. Still, co-owner Carol Besse estimated that sales were up 7% or 8% over last year’s Thanksgiving weekend and could go up as much as 10% for the year. Carmichael’s newly opened children’s specialty store exceeded expectations for its first Christmas. “Our sales have been higher than we anticipated,” said children’s buyer and store manager Kelly Estep.
The newly launched outlet for PW’s 2014 Bookstore of the Year, Green Apple Books in San Francisco, Calif., also gained traction over Thanksgiving weekend, according to buyer and Books on the Park manager Stephen Sparks. “We’re upbeat about the season,” he said. “Our customers keep saying how happy they are to have a bookstore in the neighborhood.”
Willard Williams, owner of three Toadstool Bookshops in the Monadnock region of New Hampshire and creator of the first Cider Monday, had a difficult start to the holidays. A winter storm with a foot of snow caused power outages on the day before Thanksgiving, disrupting both Cider Monday and Plaid Friday (his community’s shop-local day). Toadstool was forced to close early and lost sales to Thanksgiving celebrations that were postponed until power returned on Friday or Saturday. “When you lose a couple of days, it’s hard to make it up,” said Williams, who is hoping for a flat year. He did point out one bright spot: “We feel more and more confident that books are here to stay.”
The Book Stall at Chestnut Court in Winnetka, Ill., was one of several stores that started merchandising and decorating for Christmas early in November. “We didn’t want to annoy people by having Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving, but people are getting used to it. We tried to maintain a balance,” said Stephanie Hochschild, who purchased the store a year and a half ago. Sales so far this year have been up 6% over 2013, although she noted, “The holiday always makes our year.”
At Left Bank Books in St. Louis, which closed its downtown location in May, holiday decor couldn’t dispel the mood created by the Ferguson shooting. “It doesn’t matter what your opinion is. There’s no one who hasn’t been affected by this,” said co-owner Kris Kleindienst. On the other hand, she added, “There’s a kind of a tenderness, a desire to regroup and reaffirm bonds—at least among our customers this holiday season.”
Among the store’s holiday promotions is a “deal of the day,” both in-store and online, for 25% off. The store is also encouraging customers to let Left Bank help them do their shopping. Customers fill out a form online for the personal shopping service, which costs $5 for each person included on the list.
R.J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Ct., is also adding personal shopping help, but in-store. Customers can call ahead to make an appointment with the owner or a particular bookseller. “People like that one-on-one,” said general manager Lori Fazio.
McLean & Eakin Booksellers in Petoskey, Mich., which saw sales on this year’s Small Business Saturday rise 25% over last year’s, has been bringing in new sidelines, such as turntables, to boost sales. It’s also been marketing big-ticket items, including the $350 collector’s edition of Richard Havers’s Verve.
Kenny Safrin, owner of Books & Greetings in Northvale, N.J., is relying more and more on events to drive the store’s revenue, such as an upcoming one with five-time baseball All Star CC Sabathia for CC Claus. Safrin’s store is doing well with celebrity titles by Amy Poehler, Derek Jeter, and William Isaacson, along with anything Frozen.
Elsewhere, literary prizes are giving books like Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See, a National Book Award finalist, an added boost at the Book Stall and a number of other stores. At Chaucer’s, newly minted Nobel Laureate Patrick Modiano’s Suspended Sentences is one of the three top sellers. And Phil Klay’s Redeployment, which won the NBA for fiction, is a favorite at Carmichael’s, along with Boris Johnson’s The Churchill Factor.
Books with a local connection tend to do well, especially at the holidays. Left Bank Books has sold 1,000 copies of local author Andy Cohen’s Andy Cohen Diaries. Powell’s Books in Portland is doing particularly well with The Portlandia Cookbook and Boys in the Boat. The store also has a surprise strong seller in As You Wish: On the Making of The Princess Bride, by actor Cary Elwes.
Asked about the “it” book this holiday season, Donna Fell, owner of Sparta Books in Sparta Township, N.J., responded with a rhetorical question of her own: “Is there one book out there? It’s just all over the place.”
For the first time in several seasons, sales of John Green books have begun to slow. Jacqueline Woodson’s NBA-winning Brown Girl Dreaming was on President Obama’s shopping list and topped many bookseller lists. Another book with a strong following is B.J. Novak’s The Book Without Pictures. “[It] is probably the one book people are coming in for or coming in knowing,” said Children’s Book World’s Hebert. And Wimpy Kid keeps going. At Broadside Bookshop in Northampton, Mass., which was up 40% on Small Business Saturday, co-owner Nancy Felton says that the newest Wimpy Kid, The Long Haul, is “flying out of here.”
No matter how long the holiday selling season is, what really counts are the final days leading up to Christmas. “It’s really the last two weeks that blow up for us,” said Carmichael’s Besse. “The first two weeks are busy, but not crazy busy like those last couple.”