The Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association kicked off this year’s conference at the Marriott Renaissance Hotel Central Park in Denver quietly on Wednesday afternoon with an Edelweiss educational session that drew about 40 booksellers, followed by the traditional mix-and-mingle at a nearby brewery that drew scores more. The proceedings rapidly picked up steam on Thursday morning during the first keynote breakfast when half a dozen children’s book authors and illustrators presented their latest books to more than 200 booksellers and a few librarians packed into a hotel meeting room.

Thursday’s schedule focused on reps presenting their picks to booksellers, interspersed with “conversation with colleagues” sessions geared towards bookstore owners and managers that dived into such issues as human resource challenges, succession planning, and paying employees sustainable wages.

Kelsey Black, who opened her bookstore, The Book Burrow in Pflugerville, Tex., north of Austin, a year ago, praised the conversations between veteran booksellers and new booksellers such as herself. “Things like this are the whole point of these conferences,” she said, “It’s very validating, when someone who’s been in business for 50 years has the same problems that I do. I don’t feel so alone.” Black, who attended MPIBA's SpringCon gathering in San Antonio, Tex. in April and says she “felt seen there for the first time” in her life, is a first-time attendee at FallCon and one of two inaugural recipients of the Joyce Meskis Scholarship, which provides two MPIBA bookseller members with an all-expenses paid trip to the event.

David Landry, the owner of CLASS Bookstore in Houston is also a first-time attendee. He and his wife, Dara Landry, launched CLASS in their apartment in November 2020. During the pandemic, they operated CLASS as a pop-up, before moving into a bricks-and-mortar location in December 2022. “We didn’t find the location: the location found us,” Landry said, noting that the bookstore, which is open on weekends only due to the owners’ other full-time jobs, is a general bookstore, although 75% of the books are by BIPOC authors. While the store’s hours to date are limited, Landy is working to become “a fixture in the community,” by hosting authors and sponsoring open-mike poetry nights, both of which are drawing large crowds. A stop at CLASS by Daniel Black (Black on Black: On Our Brilliance and Resilience in America) on his book tour drew 80 people; 100 books were sold.

Both Landry and Book Burrow’s Black noted the problems young entrepreneurs – especially women and BIPOC -- face in launching bookstores, particularly the obstacles to obtaining capital. “We’ve become very resourceful,” Black said, noting that she did not purchase any new furniture or fixtures for her store so as to keep start-up costs down.

Landry and Black were not the only first-timers at Mountains & Plains this year: approximately 60 booksellers gathered at the entrance to the exhibit hall on Thursday evening for MPIBA executive director Heather Duncan’s inaugural walkthrough for first-time attendees. After Duncan made introductory remarks and explained the trade show exhibit, she marched the booksellers through the exhibit hall, making stops at several booths, where publishers’ reps introduced themselves.

As booksellers crowded the exhibit hall Thursday evening, Sourcebooks senior director of sales for indies and libraries Margaret Coffee noted that this is her third regional show this fall, as she exhibited at PNBA in Portland and then CALIBA in South San Francisco. “They’ve all had a lot of energy and this one is really high,” she commented. Arsen Kashkashian, the lead buyer and general manager at Boulder Book Store in Boulder, Colo. concurred: “There’s a lot of people here tonight and there’s so much energy,” he said, “I feel like we’ve come back 100% since 2019.”

Mountains and Plains continues through Saturday afternoon. While Friday will be devoted to the trade show, Saturday will emphasize bookseller education.