If there was a theme to this year’s Heartland Fall Forum, held for the second time in Chicagoland on October 9-11, it was that despite the differences between Midwest Independent Booksellers Association members and Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association members, when it comes down to it, they are one big, sprawling community of booksellers, stretching from the Rust Belt cities through the prairie states.

The camaraderie between GLIBA and MIBA members that has grown since the two organizations merged their separate trade shows into one mega-show in 2011 was noted by many of the publishers PW spoke to. Education panels were comprised equally of MIBA and GLIBA members, and booksellers from both organizations mixed together on the show floor, during evening receptions, and in the Westin Lombard Hotel bar.

There were 297 booksellers from 67 GLIBA stores, 50 MIBA stores, and three stores that belong to both associations attending Heartland this year: 192 attendees were GLIBA booksellers, 116 attendees were MIBA booksellers, and 11 booksellers were members of both associations. While the number is about 25% less than last year’s bookseller attendance in Minneapolis, it is on par with bookseller attendance at Heartland in 2013 when it was held in another hotel in the Chicago suburbs. Heartland will return to Minneapolis, Oct. 5-7, 2016.

The idea that Midwestern booksellers are a community was established during the opening night’s awards dinner, when the boards of both organizations jointly honored retired commission rep Ted Heinecken with the Voice of the Heartland Award. Heinecken is the first publishers’ rep to receive the award, given to a Midwestern book person for “dedication and service” to independent booksellers. He is also the second person to receive the award from both organizations: the first was Kate DiCamillo last year.

“The relationship between booksellers and reps is a precious bond,” Heinecken, who repped for more than 50 years, said, after receiving a standing ovation, “We provide a crucial service to our society: bringing the world of books and literature to our fellow citizens.”

This theme was reinforced at the Moveable Feast of authors the following day, when keynote speaker YA author Pat Schmatz (Lizard Radio, Sept., Candlewick), who self-identifies as queer, spoke about her youth, disclosing that books were her “saving grace” during a difficult period.

The focus of most of the booksellers PW queried seemed to be on adult fiction, with many praising publishers' offerings; several called the publishers’ lists “intense.” Jacquelyn Mitchard’s next novel, Two if By Sea (S&S, Mar.), was named by practically every bookseller PW talked to as the book that they are most excited to read and to sell.

Emily Hall, the owner of Main Street Books in St. Charles, Mo., said however that she’s most excited about the just-released Jim Kay illustrated edition of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (Scholastic, Oct.), and had 40 pre-orders. She anticipates it being the big seller in her store during the holidays.

Like booksellers in other parts of the country, MIBA and GLIBA booksellers report that they are doing well, but some emphasized that a single factor can dramatically affect the bottom line. While Robin Allen of Forever Books in St. Joseph, Mich. said that sales were up 45% in September because a customer bought books to donate to school children in Chicago, April Gorski of the Book Vault in Oskaloosa, Iowa, lost an anticipated sale of 120 books that month because a book group disbanded. Sales remained steady, she said, as the store somehow made up for that loss by picking up sales of other books.

Although, as always, veteran booksellers were out in full force at Heartland, there were also a number of first-timers, such as the booksellers who have recently bought or opened stores in the Chicago area, and DeAndra Beard, who intends to open a bookstore in Kokomo, Ind. Beyond Barcodes will be an extension of her language learning center, Beyond Borders. She will operate a pop-up store during the holidays and plans to officially open on or around National Bookstore Day in the spring. The store, she says, will specialize in social justice, human rights, and multicultural titles. She hopes to “find common ground and build community” in a city with growing numbers of international residents.

“I had no idea what to expect, coming here,” Beard said, “But everyone has welcomed me with open arms. I’m loving it and I’ve been doing the happy dance. I should have become a bookseller a long time ago.”