When it came time to replace Calvin Crosby as executive director of the California Independent Booksellers Alliance following his decision to become co-owner of the King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, the board decided to name co-executive directors, appointing Ann Seaton, CALIBA’s former director of operations, and Kristin Rasmussen, general manager of {pages} a bookstore in Manhattan Beach, Calif., to the posts.

The two women come from different parts of the state. Seaton, who began at CALIBA August 1, was with the association for six years. Before CALIBA formed, she served as administrator and director of operations for the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association and is a resident of San Jose. Rasmussen, who joined CALIBA on August 23, was general manager of [pages} in 2017 and previously served as schools program coordinator for Books Inc.; she lives outside of Los Angeles.

At the time of the appointments, Melinda Powers of Bookshop Santa Cruz and CALIBA board president, said, “Given the magnitude of California, its influential economy and its concentration of excellent independent bookstores, we recognize the need for dynamic, visionary, and responsive leadership, and believe our members will be best served by the collaborative power of Ann and Kristin as we expand beyond this past year of global shutdown and explore the true opportunity in a California Independent Booksellers Alliance.”

One of the benefits of having two executive directors is that each of them understands the unique culture of their own part of the state. “California is a very large and diverse state,” Rasmussen says, “and each part has its own personality. That said, the California narrative also unites us. There is a pride of place and people who are proud to call it home.”

Both Rasmussen and Seaton note that one of the challenges of leading CALIBA, which has about 250 member stores, will be the continual geographic education of New York publishers who remain unfamiliar with the state’s curious geography. “For example,” Seaton says, “we have two South Bays. There is one near San Francisco and another in Los Angeles. We also have to make it clear that if you have an author read one night in San Jose, you can have them read again in Berkeley, and it won’t be the same audience.”

Rasmussen adds, “It also applies to Los Angeles, where you can have someone read in Manhattan Beach and Pasadena, and there will be no overlap.”

At the time of our conversation via Zoom in late August, Seaton was just finishing work on the holiday catalog, and the pair were prepping for two October in-person events, dubbed Discovery Lab 2021, which are taking place during the annual fall regional. The first will be Sunday, October 24, at Books Inc., in San Francisco, and the second will be Thursday, October 28, at Vroman’s in Pasadena. Each event will feature presentations by six authors, who will each have five minutes to talk about their book. ARCs will be on offer, and there will be snacks and opportunities to network. “We kept hearing that booksellers really wanted to get together and see each other again,” Seaton says. “So we tried to find a pared-down, more casual way to make that happen. It will be very much a mix-and-mingle party atmosphere.”

Asked about priorities, Rasmussen says that giving more emphasis to diversity is one obvious emphasis, but not entirely in the conventional sense. Before he left CALIBA, Crosby was integral in creating the Mosaic Community for BIPOC booksellers (see “BIPOC Bookstores Form Community” on p. 48), and diversity, equity, and inclusion issues remain high on the agenda. In addition, both directors acknowledge that online sales bolstered revenue for many member booksellers during retail lockdowns and they plan to continue supporting those efforts, primarily through enhanced education and communication.

Growth of the association is also a priority, and CALIBA aims to offer more support to online-only, or pop-up booksellers, which have become much more commonplace. “It has been really interesting that we saw more stores open in the past year than we saw close,” Seaton says. “There has been a lot of excitement around opening stores and a lot of different models.”

Much credit for the survival of indies, the codirectors believe, goes to the growing importance consumers have put on shopping locally. “One of the best things that I’ve seen come out of this long nightmare that we have endured for the past year and a half is that, finally, the shop local message has really hit home with our communities,” Seaton says.

Rasmussen adds, “I think when people actually saw the stores in their communities shut down during the worst part of the pandemic for weeks and months, they realized how valuable an asset these stores were to their communities, what they did for local authors and schools and other community groups, how they are safe havens in their communities.”

“Before the stores were shuttered, maybe they just didn’t get the message. But they do now,” Rasmussen says. “I think they saw that we booksellers could do things they never imagined we could do: online sales, curbside pickup, or deliveries on bikes. We could get them books quickly and do it with good humor, grace, and a little flair. And that we went the extra mile for our customers is something they really appreciated.” The result was an outpouring of love for bookstores across the state that continues to this day. “It is,” Rasmussen says, “something we are all thrilled to see.”

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