The Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association's first in-person show in two years took place October 7- 9 at the Renaissance Hotel Central Park in Denver’s Stapleton neighborhood; it was a joyous reunion for booksellers and publishers from across the far-flung MPIBA region.

As of Friday morning, 185 booksellers and seven librarians had attended the conference, which kicked off unofficially on Wednesday evening with a reception at the new Tattered Cover children’s bookstore at the Stanley Marketplace in nearby Aurora. The show officially launched Thursday morning with the traditional Children’s Author & Illustrator Breakfast.

Noting that 125 of the 192 attendees hailed from Colorado, 16 from Texas, and 10 from Utah, with numbers ranging between two and seven from Arizona, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming respectively, MPIBA executive director Heather Conn Duncan pointed out that while “some of our most constant attendees were missing, I'll estimate that one-third of those that did attend had never been to a show before.”

“I didn’t know what to expect,” Duncan added. “It’s a lovefest, and everything looks the same”—although, unlike typical years, about a third to a half of show exhibitors and attendees opted to remain masked. While a number of the big houses were absent from this year’s show, such as Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Hachette, there were about 5%-10% more vendors than in 2019. Several of the vendors are first-time exhibitors, such as Dzanc Press, which moved from Michigan to Colorado a few years ago, and Microcosm Publishing, headquartered in Portland, Ore.

“Last year, I was sitting at home, thinking, what if we never do this again?” Microcosm rep Kalen Landow said, recalling how she’d teared up at first sight of Tattered Cover’s booksellers at the opening night reception, as she used to work as a bookseller there. “I’ve missed all of you,” she added.

“I’ve been yearning to connect with independent booksellers,” said Elise Supovitz, the Boston-based director of field sales at Candlewick Press. “This is one of only two in-person shows, so I persuaded my company to send me here. I’ve been craving in-person conversations with booksellers.”

If it seemed that everybody was stepping up to ensure a successful and smooth show, it's because they were. Scott Graham, an author based in Durango, Colo., staffed the table of his publisher, Torrey House, talking up the Utah publisher's fiction and nonfiction offerings to booksellers. He explained that he offered his services to the staff, who were reluctant to travel from Salt Lake City to Denver due to Covid concerns. "I've been here so many times, I know the press so well, I told them I'd run the table for them," he said. "I've been setting up the table and sending them pictures. I feel like I have a voice in my ear, telling me what to do."

While Nicole Magistro, who sold the Bookworm of Edwards in Edwards, Colo. in August 2020 was promoting her new children’s picture book, Read Island, to her former professional colleagues, The King’s English (Salt Lake City) co-owner Anne Holman was introducing the store’s new co-owner, Calvin Crosby, to other booksellers and reps. Between the Covers (Telluride, Colo.) co-owner, Daiva Chesonis, was escorting the store’s prospective new co-owner, Jennifer Ball, around the show floor. Between the Covers is scheduled to change ownership on October 27 from Chesonis and Bobbi Smith to Ball and her husband, Brad Ball, who moved last week from Nashville, Tenn. to Telluride.

Chesonis, who is the 2020-2022 poet laureate of San Miguel County, said she decided to sell her stake in the store to focus on her poetry. She reported that Between the Covers has, like so many other bookstores in the Rocky Mountains region, experienced a surge in sales during the pandemic, as tourists flocked to destinations where they could spend time outdoors. “I’ve never seen so many books leave the store as I did last summer,” she said.

Supply Chain Questions

While the buzz on the show floor centered on the industry’s relief in returning to an in-person regional show, booksellers also talked about supply chain issues and potential shortages of hot titles during the holiday season. Kathy Baum, the adult buyer at The Tattered Cover, said that the company is anticipating shortages, but that the changes in pub dates that publishers are making due to supply chain disruptions are also problematic. “It’s hard for me to keep track, and to change them all in the system,” she reported, Baum anticipates that fiction is going to be hot this holiday season, with such buzzy releases as Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land, Richard Powers’ Bewilderment, and Colm Toibin’s The Magician front and center.

Arsen Kashkashian, the head buyer at Boulder Bookstore in Boulder, Colo., who thinks that Paul McCartney’s The Lyrics: 1956 to the Present is going to be a big holiday pick this year, reported that Boulder Bookstore had a “huge summer, with all the tourists.” He anticipates an equally strong holiday season. Asked about supply chain issues, Kashkashian said that while he “expects to run out of stuff,” the store “is not going to run out of books. If we're out of a book, people will buy something else."

“It’s a problem, but it’s not worth all the angst,” he added, “”You’re going to sell what you have. On December 15, if you can’t get the Richard Powers, then get the Anthony Doerr. Or vice versa.”

This story has been updated as more information became available.