Sales of jigsaw puzzles and games, which spiked at the beginning of the pandemic, may have leveled off at some stores after stay-at-home restrictions lifted, but for the indies PW contacted, more than two years into Covid they remain strong sellers, along with art supplies. “Families are still seeking out games and activities that they can do together like puzzles, card games, and making art,” says Diane Capriola, co-owner of Little Shop of Stories in Decatur, Ga.

"Bookstores are finding success with sidelines despite the fact that “everything seems to be more expensive or the same price and smaller,” says Hannah Amrollahi of the Bookworm in Omaha. The store sells a mix of high- and low-price-point items, and the hottest sidelines are Warmies plush stuffed animals and Folkmanis puppets.

Sales of plush toys shot up at many other stores during the pandemic, and they remain up. Jamie Thomas of Women & Children First in Chicago says that she cannot keep MerryMakers plush dolls in stock, particularly the Snowy Day and Last Stop on Market Street dolls.

Holly Weinkauf, owner of the Red Balloon Bookshop in St. Paul, Minn., says that sales of sidelines have increased “dramatically” since March 2020, with customers bundling purchases. JellyCat plush stuffed animals and outdoor-themed items like binoculars are strong sellers at her store. Up north, in Duluth, Jennifer Jubenville, manager of Fitgers Bookstore, says that customers come in asking specifically for Wild Republic’s plush loons (the loon is Minnesota’s state bird).

Supply chain issues have forced booksellers to order sidelines earlier, especially for holidays. The Reading Bug in San Carlos, Calif., received an order of 100 stuffed animal hearts from China for a Valentine’s Day display in late March. Since gift items are nonreturnable, co-owner Lauren Savage will try to sell them, though it may be slow going until next February.

“We’re really thinking hard about where we’re ordering from, who we’re supporting, and what we’re supporting,” Thomas says.

Weinkauf echoes that sentiment and has been searching out local vendors like Frostbeard Studio in Minneapolis, which sells book-themed candles that are popular with her customers.

Similarly, Cynthia Compton of 4Kids & Toys in Zionsville, Ind., says that without Toy Fair New York and Spielwarenmesse International Toy Fair in Germany, which were both canceled last year, she relies more on smaller vendors and previous store bestsellers. Last Christmas’s hit, Toniebox, a digital audio player that provides a screen-free alternative for stories and music, has become this spring’s bestseller.

Capriola also focuses on smaller vendors and uses Faire’s online wholesale marketplace to find unique sidelines. “Our merchandising is leaning more toward telling a story by pairing sidelines with books and other themed merch,” she says. “We’re doing this as a way to help customers with their gift buying while pushing up our UPT [units per transaction].”

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