Two weeks after its high-energy joint show with the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association in St. Louis, approximately 38 booksellers participated in the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association’s short but sweet virtual membership meeting Thursday afternoon. Executive director Carrie Obry kicked off the meeting by noting that MIBA membership is exploding. “We are experiencing an unprecedented period of membership growth,” Obry reported, “It’s good to understand where we are now and where we’ve come from.” There are currently 224 MIBA member bookstores – the highest number, Obry noted, that the organization has recorded in the 12 years she has served as executive director. MIBA had 178 member stores in 2021, up from 157 stores in 2020.

Obry call the growth in membership during the pandemic "extraordinary.” She reported that 58 new bookstores have joined MIBA since the 2020 lockdown: 11 of them opened in 2020, 28 opened in 2021, and 19 opened this year or hope to open soon. She added that these numbers are even more striking, considering that Book World, the regional mini-chain of bookstores operating primarily in Minnesota and Wisconsin closed all 45 outlets in late 2018. “At the height of our membership in 2017, when Book World was part of it, we had 175 stores.” (Each Book World outlet held its own MIBA membership.)

Obry noted that 18 of MIBA’s new members “are operating without a storefront -- and we welcome creative sales models -- and 17 of these stores are operated by people from historically underrepresented communities.”

Concluding her remarks, Obry reported that there had been a grand total of 443 people at this year’s Heartland Fall Forum, and reminded booksellers that the next conference will take place in Detroit, Oct. 18-20, 2023.

Kate Rattenborg Scott, the owner of Dragonfly Books in Decorah, Ia. and outgoing MIBA board president, said MIBA is “in a solid financial situation,” with investment funds that have grown in the last couple of years. MIBA also has a $55,000 surplus from the last two years of operations, primarily due to the success of the winter catalog. MIBA intends to take $15,000 from its funds to re-invest in its membership this coming year.

MIBA’s spring meeting in May 2023 will be co-hosted by six indies in central Iowa plus one prospective bookseller there. The conference is tentatively planned for the first week in May.

SIBA and NAIBA's New Voices, New Rooms Moving In-Person

The Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance announced Thursday that it will partner once again in 2023 with the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association on another New Voices, New Rooms conference – this time to be held it in-person. The joint show will take place in early August in northern Virginia.

“The shift to early August supports our bookstores by moving it away from peak hurricane, football, school, and community festival season,” SIBA executive director Linda-Marie Barrett explained in a release. The conference will, SIBA and NAIBA promise, “take advantage of venues outside the hotel for meetings and events. Buying from publishers and vendors will be more focused and purposeful and will not be structured as a typical exhibit hall. Education will take place on days one and three, with day two devoted to book and merchandise preview and buying.”

Since 2020, the two organizations have partnered on four virtual NVNR virtual conferences for booksellers. Although SIBA is teaming up on this joint show with NAIBA, Barrett assured that organization’s membership that the show will also include SIBA-exclusive programming. She said that SIBA “will continue to host smaller in-person spring and fall gatherings around the territory to reach booksellers where they are" as well.

SIBA and NAIBA plan to continue to co-sponsor virtual programming for booksellers of both organizations. Upcoming events include the VIndies: A Celebration of Indie Bookstore Videos, taking place on Nov. 16; a virtual owners retreat in January 2023; and virtual publicity speed dating in April 2023. NAIBA will also host its own in-person publicity speed dating event in March in New York City.