The opening breakfast with Sarah Pennypacker’s serious look at war, Pax, coupled with the zaniness of Judy Schachner (Dewey Bob), whose ADHD was diagnosed when she was in her mid-50s by a third grader (“because you’re crazy like me”), and of Jon Scieszka (Frank Einstein and the Brain Turbo), aka Mr. Ambassador (he served as the first National Ambassador of Young People’s Literature), set the tone at this year’s Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association Discovery Show. Long known for its enthusiastic gathering of booksellers from Texas to the Canadian border and beyond, this year booksellers in the region had even more to celebrate with an influx of 10 new member stores and 21 new professional members over the past year, as well as new owners for the region’s premier bookstore, the Tattered Cover in Denver.
Both Len Vlahos and his wife, Kristen Gilligan, who are in the process of taking over the Tattered Cover, were on hand, along with new booksellers Dani Knight, who is opening Barefoot Cowgirl Books in Flagstaff, Ariz., with Nancy Nelson on Halloween, and Teresa Muhic, owner of the newly opened Legends Bookstore in Cody, Wy. Attendance at the show, which was held at the Renaissance Denver Hotel (October 7-10) for the fifth year in a row, was up 5% with 176 booksellers and 434 attendees overall.
Attendance was also strong at the show’s three breakfasts, dinner, and afternoon gathering with authors, ranging from science fiction writer Pierce Brown, whose fans are eagerly awaiting book three in the Red Rising trilogy, to Douglas Brinkley for Rightful Heritage: Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Land of America; Stacy Schiff for The Witches, and Jennifer Chambliss Bertman for Book Scavenger. Pennypacker was among the many authors to thank booksellers for what they do. “We revere you,” she said. “We would break into your house on Sunday morning and make you heart-shaped pancakes, if it weren’t too creepy.” Her words resonated with booksellers like Julie Shimada, children’s and sidelines buyer at Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colo., who said, “Breakfast was phenomenal. [Bookselling] is more than just selling books, and authors appreciate that.”
At least part of the excitement at this year’s show came from strong sales. Many area bookstores fit the profile described by American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher at the annual meeting. In 2015, book units sold across ABA reporting stores have been up 10.8%. “We had the busiest year we’ve ever had,” said Sue Fassett, manager of Dolly’s Bookstore in Park City, Utah. Charlotte Glover, who decided to try MPIBA after buying Parnassus Books in Ketchikan, Alaska last year, said that sales were up 9%. Stores like Brace Books & More, in Ponca City, Ok., which has been affected by declining oil prices, have made up the difference with increased sidelines. According to owner Jerry Brace, sidelines are now 60% of the inventory.
MPIBA, which keeps its show floor open for a day and a half, is an important stop for publishers of all sizes. Shambhala Publications used the show to celebrate the press’ return to Boulder, Colo., last month, after 29 years in Boston. Kirsten Johanna Allen, editorial director and co-publisher at Torrey House Press, said, “We love this show. We’re a small publisher out of Utah. This has so much energy and enthusiasm for connecting with people.”
In 2016 MPIBA’s Fall Discovery Show will be back at the Renaissance Denver Hotel from October 6-8.