Regional members of the California Independent Booksellers Alliance converged on the Central Valley city of Sacramento over the weekend of September 9-11. Co-executive directors Ann Seaton and Kristin Rasmussen welcomed CALIBA members, many, if not most, of whose bookstores they have visited in person.
“When we got this gig together, Ann and I set out on a road trip,” said Rasmussen later, describing their goal of eventually visiting all members’ stores. “We have to date visited nearly 100 stores throughout the state, and we have lots of plans to keep traveling this fall,” thanks to sponsorship from Scholastic, Sourcebooks, Blackstone Publishing, Blue Dot, and Ingram. Ultimately, the co-directors will “use what we have learned to move us forward in the future,” and the project already has strengthened personal connections in Covid times.
Fall Fest began with a Friday reception at Ross and Heidi Rojek’s unabashedly nerdy There and Back Again Café, its name a siren song to sci-fi/fantasy readers and gamers. After author talks moderated by Tina Ferguson (Face in a Book, El Dorado Hills)—including former Northern California firefighter Clare Frank’s all-too-timely memoir, Burnt (Abrams)—attendees made their way around the corner to the Rojeks’ Capital Books location.
On its street-level floor, Capital Books offers general-interest titles. Downstairs, a basement space known as Another World boasts a curated and mind-boggling array of science fiction and games. A knowledgeable staffer sold a set of D&D dice to one visitor and did his best to talk ABA director of membership Daniel O’Brien into the trading card game Magic: The Gathering. Ross Rojek, an early adopter of the Wizards of the Coast collectibles, said online and in-store sales of the cards helped “keep us afloat” while renovating Capital Books.
Sacramento is home to a growing list of independent bookstores, and CALIBA directed visitors to area shops including A Seat at the Table (Elk Grove), which Emily Autenrieth created as a popup and established in a bricks-and-mortar location in December 2021; Crawford’s Books, a primarily used-book shop founded in 1983 and acquired in 2018 by Sue and Greg Richards; and the innovative Wild Sisters Book Company, founded by actual sisters Claire Bone and Noelle Baganz in June 2021. Bone and Baganz host Boozy Book Fairs on Sundays at local taprooms; taproom managers appreciate the increased traffic, and Wild Sisters “nets as much as a Christmas weekend” for their small bookstore, Bone said. At CALIBA’s annual meeting, ABA CEO Allison Hill awarded Bone a scholarship to attend June 2023’s Children’s Institute.
Given Sacramento’s proximity to Gov. Gavin Newsom and other legislators, CALIBA encouraged attendees to make appointments at the state house to discuss topics including affordable housing, universal basic income, child care, and censorship. Few took advantage of the suggestion. Heat-wave temperatures in the hundreds were not conducive to a downtown stroll, and the weekend ahead was packed with activities. Bookstore owners and staffers nonetheless said they appreciated the prompt’s activist intent.
Laurelin Gilmore reflected she and Miranda Culp helped save Amatoria Fine Art Books (formerly Richard L. Press, Fine and Scholarly Books) in November 2020, but did not qualify for Paycheck Protection Program financial help. Similarly, Michelle Pierce took ownership of Lido Village Books in March 2020 and could not receive PPP assistance. Gilmore and Pierce both wondered how representatives might better support entrepreneurship in cases involving long-established businesses in search of new owners. Jhoanna Belfer (Bel Canto Books, Long Beach) expressed concerns about inflation and climate change, issues on the minds of lawmakers too.
One of those very legislators, U.S. Rep. Katie Porter, explicitly stated at CALIBA that local concerns can motivate change. The former UC-Irvine law professor showed up to promote her book I Swear: Politics is Messier Than My Minivan (Crown, April 11), and she spoke about her decision to run for Congress in 2018, her everyday challenges as a single parent of two boys and a girl, her work with Sen. Elizabeth Warren, and her refusal to take corporate PACs and lobbyist money.
“Washington, D.C., is where time goes to get wasted,” Porter quipped in a keynote Q&A with the ABA’s Allison Hill. “The very best, most important parts of my job happen in my congressional district.” She reminded listeners that “congresspeople like field trips. Ask them to come visit your store. Ask them to host a town hall” if you have the space. As a writer of a boys’-book blog inspired by her sons, and as a reader of romantic comedies like Jean Meltzer’s Mr. Perfect on Paper and Christina Lauren’s The Unhoneymooners (“she’s my constituent!”), Porter herself sounds like a candidate for such events.