The New England Independent Booksellers Association will mark its 50th year with an anniversary gala during its Fall Conference. NEIBA currently counts 221 bookstores and 113 publishers, vendors, and commission groups among its ranks.

The landmark anniversary comes at an opportune time to throw a party. “Every in-person event we have feels like a miracle,” NEIBA executive director Beth Ineson says, recalling the virtual meetings of 2020 and 2021. Incoming NEIBA board president Emily Russo of Print: A Bookstore in Portland, Maine, concurs. “We’re looking at [the fall gathering] as a huge celebration,” she notes. “Not only did we survive the pandemic, we’re thriving.”

Outgoing NEIBA board president Beth Wagner of White Birch Books in North Conway, N.H., whose extended term began in 2019 and spanned the Covid years, applauds NEIBA members’ willingness to rethink accessibility and adopt technologies. “I don’t want to be ‘bright side’ about the pandemic, because it was terrible, but the board functioned really well,” and booksellers weathered hard times, Wagner says. “We’re tough like the landscape is—rugged but with a soft center. We’re lucky to live in a geographically advantaged region, where all the stores are a five- or six-hour drive” from one another. NEIBA includes bookstores in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont, plus about a dozen in northeastern New York.

Ineson also mentioned the region’s manageable size. “I held state-by-state shop talks this spring and listened to stores’ concerns in real time,” she says. For booksellers who need to connect virtually, NEIBA maintains a private Facebook forum and Ineson holds weekly Zoom office hours.

Moving from one era to another

Founded in 1973 as NEBA, NEIBA has connected the bookselling community for five decades with mainstays like the Fall Conference and Spring Forum. NEIBA committees nominate and select winners of the annual New England Book Awards, recognize sales reps with the Saul Gilman Award, and, in cooperation with the Book Publishers Representatives of New England, crown the region’s indie store of the year with the Independent Spirit Award.

The volunteer-led New England Children’s Booksellers Advisory Council, a vibrant division of NEIBA since 1987, addresses topics relating to young readers. Since 2015, NECBA has advanced a mission of diversity by highlighting 20 books for young readers on its Windows and Mirrors list. According to Kinsey Forman of High Five Books in Florence, Mass., who cochairs NECBA with Read Davidson of Harvard Book Store, NECBA develops timely book industry programming. Recent presentations included a talk with Massachusetts clinical psychologist Joseph Moldover on writing about school shootings in his YA novel Every Moment After, and a chat with indie publisher Nosy Crow, which opened a Boston office in 2022.

Another popular NEIBA program that combines author presentations and bookseller education, All About the Books, took shape when Steve Fischer became executive director in 2006. “I had a strategic plan that had been hammered out by a consultant and the board, and I was mandated to implement it,” Fischer says. “That plan was my road map, in terms of budget and programming,” to instituting a shop-local program and a peer-review program that “got everybody out into other stores, sharing ideas.”

The strategic plan “moved NEIBA from one era into another,” Fischer recalls. “I was blessed with incredible board presidents, board members, and advisory councils. I felt like we were in the same boat rowing in the same direction and going to the same place.” Although during his tenure “Amazon was killing us, and we got in way late on e-books, we saw this enormous growth of children’s bookselling” and made it through a painful recession, he says.

Fischer, who handed the NEIBA reins to Ineson upon his retirement in 2017, remains optimistic about bookselling. In the mid-2000s, he says, “I’d have that conversation with the Boston Globe about the death of the independent bookstore, and I felt like Pollyanna. But at the end of my 10 years, I was getting phone calls about new stores and the success story.”

“Bookstores are not going to go away,” Fischer insists. “They’re a very nimble lot run by very smart people.”

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