The first in-person iteration of NAIBA and SIBA’s joint conference, New Voices New Rooms drew 278 booksellers from 18 states who travelled to Arlington, Va. to talk shop August 7-10. Programming included a keynote speech from Julia Fabris McBride of the Kansas Leadership Center, bus tours of local bookstores, position-specific retreats, breakout sessions, a busy exhibition floor, and receptions for booksellers to interface with authors and editors.

NVNR was launched as a virtual trade show by SIBA and NAIBA in 2020, and Elliot batTzedek, member manager of NAIBA, was glad to see NVNR leap off the screen into the real world. “There are opportunities when you’re meeting together and talking that you can’t get over Zoom,” she said, particularly for newcomers who have not yet met their colleagues due to the pandemic. “For stores that opened during Covid, this is their welcome to the business.”

Indeed, the conference saw an impressive number of first-timers. There were 33 new stores at this year’s conference (19 NAIBA, 14 SIBA), reflecting the rapid growth of independent bookstores across the two regions, even amid the pandemic and other economic challenges. (In 2022, 173 new independent bookstores opened in the U.S., per the ABA.)

First-timer Sarah Rifield, a bookseller at Park Books & Literacy Lab in Severna Park, Md., was amazed by how “warm and inviting” the event was. “Bookselling can feel reclusive,” she said, “and then you come to these and events, you find your community, and you find you’re all dealing with the same things.”

Nyawira Nyota, a college student and bookseller at Page 158 Books in Wake Forest, N.C., attended NVNR for the first time thanks to a Binc Foundation Scholarship and found the programming "helpful and engaging." At Page 158, Nyota is helping to grow the store’s TikTok presence, and throughout the day on Tuesday she filmed various moments from the trade show for a TikTok video.

On Tuesday, bookstore managers, owners, and children’s booksellers gathered for specialized retreats. Kate Storhoff, general manager of Bookmarks in Winston-Salem, N.C., raved about the “fantastic” managers retreat, which she called a “braintrust of people in a room sharing ideas.” Casey Rose Frank, a first-timer and owner of Gold Bee Bookshop in Liverpool, N.Y., was heartened to see so many women at the owners' retreat, and to encounter “so many booksellers having the same experiences as me—and I didn’t even know it!”

Tuesday’s main event was the jam-packed Indie Author Reception, which featured Kim Coleman Foote, author of Coleman Hill (SJP Lit); Toni Shiloh, author of The Love Script (Bethany House); Danny Caine, author of How to Protect Bookstores and Why (Microcosm Publishing) and co-owner of the Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kan; and others. Some authors set out candy at their tables to entice booksellers, while others got even more clever. Martin Clark, author of The Plinko Bounce (Rare Bird), meted out honey, coffee, and circuit breakers. (“You’ll get it if you read the book,” Nyota of Page 158 assured me.)

On Wednesday, booksellers hit the exhibit floor, which featured 88 publishers and other vendors, from Penguin Random House and Two Dollar Press to and Edelweiss. (For the first time, NVNR limited the number of exhibitors in attendance.) John Leary, executive director of field sales at Hachette Book Group, was especially excited for this portion of the conference because talking face-to-face with booksellers “is the best part of the job.”

Recent news of Simon & Schuster’s purchase by private equity firm KKR didn’t loom very large over the exhibit floor. Tim Hepp, a national field account representative for S&S, said employees were “cautiously optimistic” about the sale. Meanwhile, booksellers were mostly glad that the publisher—which had been on the market since March 2020—had finally found a buyer. “It’s nice that it’s been settled, that it’s no longer up in the air,” said Jessica Osborn, co-owner of E. Shaver Books in Savannah, Ga.

Osborn’s more pressing concern was for S&S’s new ownership to “get them on Batch,” referring to the electronic invoicing system now used by PRH, Macmillan, and HarperCollins. Diana Robinson, co-owner of Eagle Eye Book Shop in Decatur, Ga., added, “The goal is to get all the publishers on Batch.” (Nathan Halter, program manager at Batch, said working with S&S had been a “nonstarter” since the publisher’s “status was nebulous,” but he hopes that “given their new stability, they’ll be open to moving forward with Batch.”)

Throughout the day, breakout sessions took place at smaller tables on the exhibit floor. For “Genre Buzz,” booksellers gathered at one of 16 tables designated by genre to brush up on their knowledge or dish about their favorite titles. During a workshop on holiday prep, Lauren Nopenz Fairley of The Curious Iguana in Frederick, Md., offered tips on ordering, stocking, and displaying product and urged booksellers to “prioritize, organize, and stay calm” when in the throes of the holiday rush.

Closing out Wednesday was the Focus on Editors Reception, a new event developed “in appreciation of how booksellers love editors,” said SIBA executive director Linda-Marie Barrett. At cocktail tables along the hotel’s indoor terrace, 12 editors—including Jordan Pavlin of Knopf, Ibrahim Amad of Penguin Random House, Rachel Kahan of William Morrow, and Matt Johnson of Kensington—discussed big forthcoming titles with booksellers and doled out advanced copies. Galleys of new books by Michael Cunningham, Kaveh Akbar, and Rachel Khong went particularly quickly.

The final day of the conference included the NAIBA annual meeting and SIBA town hall, as well as hourlong breakout sessions on topics including school book fairs, cash flow, event planning, and banned books. The the latter topic was especially salient for SIBA members in states such as Florida, Kentucky, and Arkansas. NAIBA member Casey Rose Frank, of Gold Bee Bookshop, relished the opportunity to connect with booksellers from states affected by censorship laws. “More than ever I’ve loved being able to talk to people about how and what they’re doing in the face of book bans, and connecting with people in affected states—who are faring better than expected,” Frank said. “It’s been incredibly affirming.”