More than 200 members of the bookselling community gathered at the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association trade show October 27-28. The conference moved to the Sheraton Fairplex Hotel & Conference Center in Pomona, Calif., this year, a new space to accommodate a spike in exhibitors and membership.
In this region, booksellers are separated by long stretches of freeway, so the annual event plays a crucial role in connecting members. “There isn’t the same level of bookstore concentration that you see in the Bay Area,” said John Evans the owners of DIESEL, A Bookstore in Brentwood, Calif. “The trade show gives you a big boost. You’re all working separately in your stores, and it energizes the grid of independent booksellers. All of us get energized by each other and the network lights up.”
The organization counted at least four new stores opening around the region: Now Serving, a cookbook store in Los Angeles; Café con Libros, a nonprofit store in Pomona, Calif.; Seite, an East Los Angeles store focused on books and zines; and 1888 Bookshop inside the 1888 Center in Orange, Calif.
This year's trade show included SCIBA’s first ever off-site event, a trip to Café con Libros with Indies Forward, a 2016 ABA volunteer effort to advance an “emerging generation of indie booksellers.” Executive director Andrea Vuleta said the trip was part of an effort to focus on the "future potential" of up-and-coming booksellers. “It’s important that younger booksellers have peer support.”
A number of booksellers expressed concern about Amazon’s encroaching presence on local spaces through its Whole Foods acquisition. “People are used to that deep discount at Amazon,” said Adrian Newell, a book buyer at Warwick's, worrying that customers don’t see the effect those discounts have on local business. “Trying to have that conversation about pricing without publicly shaming the customer—that’s the tightrope we walk.”
Other Southern California challenges included rising rent and increasing payroll requirements, so programming focused on maximizing margins. Vuleta cited the popular “Strange Love Books or: How to Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Genres” panel discussion as an example. “Romance is one of the biggest volume parts of the book business, and a lot of stores don’t even stock it. Or, if they are stocking it, there’s nobody looking after it,” said Vuleta.
The popular books at the show included many by Southern California locals: Graffiti Palace, a debut novel by Los Angeles public high school teacher A. G. Lombardo; From Here to Eternity: Traveling the World to Find the Good Death by Caitlin Doughty, the “hipster mortician” who runs a nonprofit funeral home called Undertaking L.A.; and Catalina, a debut novel by Liska Jacobs, the former events coordinator at The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles.
Cecil Brown, a buyer at Kinokuniya and a SCIBA board member, appreciated the show's focus on the future. “In our store, most of our booksellers are young. They’re optimistic, happy, and friendly,” said Brown. “I love coming to the trade show—to feel this openness. This feeling that we are all heading in the same direction and [have] the same goal.”