What this year’s Heartland Fall Forum, held Oct. 5-7 in downtown Minneapolis, lacked in bookseller attendance, it made up for in their enthusiasm.

This year’s joint trade show of the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association and the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association drew 280 booksellers from 69 MIBA stores and 29 GLIBA stores, 238 exhibitors staffing 72 booths and tables, and 160 authors to The Depot, a 19th-century train station that has been converted into a conference hotel complex.

While HFF 2016 was not that much smaller than the 2015 show, which was held in Chicago, hosted by GLIBA, and drew 297 booksellers, there was a 31% decline from 2014’s show, which was also held at The Depot, hosted by MIBA, and drew 408 booksellers. There was much speculation on the reasons for this year’s lower attendance, with many suggesting that BEA being held in Chicago this year, coupled with Winter Institute 12 coming to Minneapolis in January, might have siphoned booksellers from HFF. Some booksellers, however, reported that business has been so good this fall, they just can’t take much time away from their stores. Left Bank Books co-owner Kris Kleindienst told PW that, although she came to the show, the St. Louis store is hosting so many major author appearances this month, that she “feels bad about being here. They need me at the store.” But, she added, it is as essential for her to attend the show as it is to schedule store events. “It sustains us; it keeps the conversations between authors and their publishers and us alive. It amplifies what we do,” she said.

Other booksellers PW spoke to also emphasized that meeting authors at the regional show is to them just as important as checking out publishers’ newest offerings -- and that the authors at Heartland fully delivered.

“You read a book and say, unh hunh,” Mary Gehring of The Bookshelf in Batesville, Ind. said, “But you come to this and you hear the authors speak, you hear their passion. You want to read the book and you really want to sell it, [because] you think, I have this person and that I can [handsell] this book to.” Gehring was especially enthusiastic about Douglas Preston, one of the four author dinner speakers, who related his adventures in the Honduras jungle in the writing of The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story (Grand Central, Jan.).

Booksellers also raved about the four children’s author breakfast speakers, who included Eric Litwin with his guitar, who led booksellers in a raucous, fist-pumping sing-along of his latest picture book, Groovy Joe: Ice Cream and Dinosaurs (Scholastic, Sept.).

“That was the funnest breakfast I’ve been to,” Kate Scott of Dragonfly Books in Decorah, Iowa said afterwards, “I loved seeing the authors do what they actually do [at author events]. If you can entertain adults like this, kids must go nuts.”

HFF organizers tweaked the schedule this year: education sessions took place on Thursday morning, followed by an afternoon/early evening trade show, with concurrent rep pick sessions throughout the day. On Friday, the floor was open only in the morning, followed by a moveable feast with 40 authors and an afternoon of more education. HFF concluded with an evening reception featuring 18 authors signing copies of their books. This schedule seemed to have had some impact on the floor's energy: it was quiet on Thursday, but bustled on Friday. Many booksellers reported that they liked having time to reflect before making orders, but some felt that splitting it into two half-days made for a drawn-out show.

There didn’t seem to be one single book this year that appealed to such a diverse crowd of booksellers, including a dozen new and prospective booksellers, ranging from Debra Cotterman, who is opening WORDS at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in December to Bob Dubrow, who moved to Duluth, Minn. last year from southern Minnesota to open Zenith Books in a gentrifying area of the city; after building renovations are completed, the store will open in July 2017.

"If BEA is like a big family reunion, Heartland is like a big family Thanksgiving dinner," noted Zsamé Morgan, who intends to open Babycakes' Book Stack, a children’s bookstore in downtown St. Paul, in the spring. "It was more intimate, more personal. I enjoyed spending time talking with my fellow booksellers and meeting my publisher reps. The trade show floor was easier to negotiate, yet there was still a sense of this large, supportive community that I also experienced at BEA. There were so many wonderful books. I loved meeting the authors and hearing about their writing process; it really brings the books alive."

Next year’s Heartland Fall Forum returns to Chicagoland. It will be held once again at the Westin Lombard in Lombard, Ill. Oct. 11-13, 2017 and GLIBA will host.