Midwest Independent Booksellers Association executive director Carrie Obry said it best: this year’s membership meeting was a “celebration of resiliency” following a difficult year marked by unprecedented challenges. The obstacles booksellers have had to contend with were made clear early on with Kit Steinaway, program director at the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, reporting on Binc's work assisting booksellers displaced by the pandemic as well as the West Coast wildfires, followed by American Booksellers Association CEO Allison Hill’s presentation. Discussing New York City's Strand bookstore's recent plea for support from its community, Hill urged MIBA booksellers finding themselves in financial difficulty to do as the Strand did: reach out to its community and let customers know.
“People want to be there for you, they want to support you," Hill said, suggesting that booksellers wanting to discuss their financial situation reach out to the ABA as well.
Obry began her director’s report by disclosing results of an informal survey done when booksellers registered for the meeting: the book that indie booksellers are most excited to sell in the fourth quarter is Barack Obama’s presidential memoir, A Promised Land, and the best thing that booksellers did during the pandemic that many will continue is providing a curbside pickup option to customers.
Like its membership, MIBA has had to pivot this past year, to keep booksellers connected with one another and to maintain its financial solvency. Obry reported that its efforts were successful, beginning with the virtual bookseller happy hours and continuing with Heartland Summer, its virtual trade show done in collaboration with the Great Lakes independent Booksellers Association. The 23 Heartland Summer events drew nearly 700 attendees and the videos of these events received a total of 2,100 views.
Because MIBA did not want to encourage travel by printing its annual road map to indie bookstores in the region, it will provide a “virtual road map” to MIBA indies on a consumer-facing website, midwestbookstores.org. The website, which will launch in January (if not before) will feature a gallery of bookstore profiles that can be searched by zip code and by state.
In her report, Kate Rattenborg owner of Dragonfly Books in Decorah, Iowa and MIBA’s board president noted that, although things were “tight this year” financially, “MIBA is going strong” and plans to spread out programming next year to bring in income on a regular basis. MIBA is on an upward trend, with 155 members, including 21 new members. While 11 of the new members are existing stores, 10 of them are prospective booksellers or new stores. Rattenborg said the organization has reached out to five other stores that it has learned of in the media, “so our overall estimate is 15 stores have opened in our region in the past year.”
Like other regional bookseller organizations, MIBA has expanded its board – from seven to nine -- to become more diverse and inclusive. The new board members are BrocheAroe Fabian, the owner of River Dog Book Company, a Wisconsin-based online bookstore; and Riley Davis, the events manager at Next Chapter Booksellers in St. Paul, Minn.
Speaking of their goals as a board member, Davis, who uses they/them pronouns, told their fellow booksellers, “I’m really hoping to start showing booksellers ways we can make bookstores more welcoming for diverse communities and also how we can encourage more diverse people to become booksellers.”
Moon Palace Books Lauded
The meeting concluded with many of the attendees visibly in tears as Danny Caine, the owner of The Raven Bookstore in Lawrence, Kan. presented the Midwest Bookseller of the Year Award to Angela Schwesnedl and Jamie Schwesnedl, the owners of Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis. (Read the full statement here.)
“I can’t think of anybody more deserving,” Caine said, describing Moon Palace’s success in building community for the past eight years with its programming and charitable pursuits. “Most inspiring to me is that they navigated the challenges of this difficult year with unimaginable grace,” he added, providing food to people made homeless by the pandemic and supporting protesters gathered outside the Minneapolis police department’s precinct station on the same block as the store after George Floyd was killed by a police officer.
“They do exactly what indies do when indies are at their best,” Caine insisted, recalling how inspiring it was for him to see a photo of the colorfully painted and graffitied store that was taken during the protests roiling Minneapolis in late May and June, “defiant and drenched in rainbows, still standing strong.”
“Moon Palace has acted as a bookstore should act in turbulent times,” Caine said, “This is how a bookstore can be an engine for positive social change. This is how a bookstore can protect and serve its neighborhood. This is good community-building. This is bookselling to make the world a better place.”
“We didn’t do it alone,” Angela responded, “We knew you had our backs.”