The 2022 holiday season officially kicked off the weekend after Thanksgiving, and bookstores across the country reported being filled with crowds of eager shoppers and the merry sounds of cash registers ringing up sales, in spite of concerns about rising prices.

“It was excellent,” reported Bob Dobrow, owner of Zenith Bookstore in Duluth, Minn. “Small Business Saturday broke records and was our best sales day ever. The press has been talking about how retail sales are a little flat this year, so we weren’t expecting a huge showing. Wow, we were wrong! It was an amazing day. We were so moved, not only by customers in the store, but the large number of shared stories and messages of support on social media.”

Zenith staff wrapped all purchases in paper and attached packets of hot cocoa mix to them; three local authors signed books, including picture book author Emily Kilgore, whose The Christmas Book Flood features Jólabókaflóðið, an Icelandic celebration that combines books and chocolate.

Cozy treats inspired purchases at Annie Bloom’s in Portland, Ore., where owner Will Peters saw demand for Deb Perelman’s Smitten Kitchen Cookbook and Melissa Clark’s Dinner in One. “During the pandemic, many of us realized we could cook,” Peters observed. “And now that people are back in the store, talking one on one about what they are interested in, midlist is doing better.”

Chicago’s Women and Children First Bookstore also reported that SBS was the best day in the store’s 43-year history. Co-owner Sarah Hollenbeck said W&CF was closed the Friday before, because she and co-owner Lynn Mooney wanted to “prioritize rest for our booksellers before the blitz,” noting, “That rest proved to be much needed as our in-store sales were the best we’ve ever had—ever.”

Before W&CF opened on Saturday, booksellers hid 10 $10 gift certificates throughout the store for browsers to find. “It was such a great burst of energy every time someone stumbled upon an envelope and squealed,” Hollenbeck said, adding that the first 50 customers that day received a W&CF cookie, and customers who spent $100 or more received a free “Support Your Local Feminist Bookstore” tote bag.

At Island Books on Mercer Island, Wash., owner Laurie Raisys enticed customers by raffling off a $250 gift card. Each visitor who spent $75 or more was entered in the drawing, heralded with the ring of a bell and a front-desk “happy dance.” Sing with Our Kids community project leader Nancy Stewart led a morning children’s storytime, and in the afternoon, prosecco was served. “We didn’t have our best day in years, but we had fun,” Raisys said, calling it a respectable if not chart-topping SBS.

Island Books did very well on sidelines (“a lot of socks, holiday puzzles,” Raisys said) and Bonnie Garmus’s Lessons in Chemistry, and preorders of Louise Penny’s A World of Curiosities were strong. Shelby Van Pelt’s Remarkably Bright Creatures is having a moment, Raisys said, noting that a customer ordered 30 copies for business gifts: “There’s always one book that comes back to life, and we have to scramble.”

Roger Bennett’s Gods of Soccer scored at Island Books, too, due to the ongoing World Cup and the fact that U.S. team member Jordan Morris lives on Mercer Island.

At Annie Bloom’s, Peters likewise cheered Gods of Soccer, plus Portland Thorns captain Christine Sinclair’s autobiography, Playing the Long Game. “The Thorns won the National Women’s Soccer League trophy, so that made it even better,” Peters added.

Maria’s Bookshop in Durango, Colo., also reported an excellent weekend of sales. Adult book buyer Jeanne Costello reported that sales were on par with those from 2021, which was the store’s best year. Maria’s officially launched its holiday season by parking its bookmobile, where customers can have purchases wrapped, out in front of the store. Sweetening the pot for shoppers, Costello said, was a gift card promotion, local business coupon books, book subscription gifts, and a book donation program.

No breakaway bestseller

If there was any surprise to the holiday weekend—beyond consumers contradicting media speculations that inflation would deflate sales—it was that Michelle Obama’s highly anticipated memoir, The Light We Carry, was not as huge of a seller as Becoming was during the 2018 holiday season kickoff. While New Story Community Books in Marshall, Mich., sold a case, Quail Ridge in Raleigh, N.C.’s assistant general manager Amber Neva Brown said that it was “not moving for us, which is a real shame, because we ordered up for the holidays.” A “broad array of books” sold instead at Quail Ridge, especially local titles.

The Light We Carry sold “briskly” at Bear Pond Books in Montpelier, Vt., co-owner Claire Benedict reported. “We were selling everything,” she added, including 22 copies of Obama’s book. Barbara Kingsolver’s latest, Demon Copperhead, however, flew off the shelves, with 45 copies sold.

Fiction was also big at W&CF, whose top three sellers were The World We Make by N.K. Jemisin, Bliss Montage by Ling Ma, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin.

“In prior years, there has been a big-hitter book, but we’re not seeing that yet,” said Chelsia Rice, co-owner of Helena’s Montana Book Co., who handled lots of Louise Penny preorders. Rice and partner Charlie Crawford noticed people “picking up interesting sidelines instead of big stacks of books as they have in the past,” and gravitating to Chuck Wendig’s Wayward (“People are responding to his brand of dystopian horror—I guess you offset the reality of the world!” Rice remarked) as well as M.L. Smoker and Natalie Peeterse’s Indigenous graphic novel Thunderous, about a Lakota teenager grappling with traditional ways and the digital world.

Costello at Maria’s Bookshop reported that while new hardcovers were hot, a number of the store’s top sellers were fiction and nonfiction backlist in paper, such as Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary, Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land, Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, and Elizabeth Letts’s The Ride of Her Life. She noted that the strong trade paperback showing had more to do with booksellers’ handselling savvy than with penny-pinching consumers shying away from hardcovers. “We didn’t hear feedback on prices,” she said. “These paperbacks are heavily recommended by staff, except Ride of Her Life, which has no bookseller read on it but always sells well when faced out.”

At the Writer’s Block in Las Vegas, readers bought a mix of bestsellers and midlist discoveries, taking home “many copies” of Jennette McCurdy’s I’m Glad My Mom Died, said co-owner Drew Cohen, as well as new books by Stephen King, Barbara Kingsolver, Cormac McCarthy, and Quentin Tarantino. “All those big stacks continued to move.” Nobel Prize winner Annie Ernaux was popular among “the tote-bag crowd, the more literary crowd,” as were New York Review Books’ editions of British novelist Gwendoline Riley and New Directions’ reissues of novels by Osamu Dazai (No Longer Human), boosted by BookTok. “That’s what the lit heads are buying in Vegas, at least,” Cohen said.

“I was worried we’d be slower this year,” he added. “We actually were almost dollar for dollar exactly the same as last year on both Black Friday and SBS. It was gratifying and a relief—that was our big takeaway.”