The best tweet at the 2009 International Christian Retail Show in Denver that wrapped up Wednesday: “Jesus asked for my business card.” A lot of cards got exchanged as people got down to business at the 60th annual show for the Christian publishing and retail industry, despite a 20% drop in attendance from 2008. Professionals (non-exhibitors) in attendance numbered 1,903; international attendees from 56 countries totaled 534, down 28% from last year.

“We came in with somber expectations,” said Bill Anderson, president-CEO of CBA, the Association for Christian Retail, which sponsored the show, trimming one full day from it. He cited the economy as the primary reason for the attendance decline. Publishers came in with similarly modest expectations; virtually all shrank or otherwise simplified exhibit space and/or brought fewer staff than last year to contain costs. Given those expectations, many expressed surprise at the traffic they got, particularly on Monday, the show’s opening day. “We’ve had a great first day,” said Brian Hughes, marketing manager for Oxford University Press. “People are here to do business.” Joe Questel, v-p of sales and business development at Symtio, a digital media provider for retailers, agreed. “Today has been absolutely great,” he said.

The business people did took many forms, from product introduction to author signings — some, like Karen Kinsgbury and Anne Graham Lotz, with long lines -- and yes, even order writing. Kregel Publications was one of at least 75 exhibitors offering a show-only special. “We took a record amount of orders,” said Cat Hoort, trade marketing manager. Many publishers said they were busy with international activity. Jeff Crosby, associate publisher for InterVarsity Press, said rights sales were “a significant benefit” of the show; IVP is growing business in Asia and English-speaking Africa. Meetings of all types kept publishers busy. “It’s a very productive time if you plan ahead,” said Dave Lewis, executive v-p of sales and marketing at Baker Publishing Group.

Next year ICRS will be held June 27-30 in St. Louis. Anderson said the Midwestern location would make it more accessible for a majority of Christian retailers; he also estimated that 40 to 50 companies not at this year’s show would attend next year; this year’s dates conflicted with a gift show in Atlanta. And at least one publisher exhibitor plans to increase space next year. “We are planning our biggest year ever in 2010 and will need a larger presence to showcase our upcoming products,” Rolf Zettersten, publisher at FaithWords, told PW in a post-show e-mail. “The Denver show was a positive experience and encourages me about the future.

In other show news:

Inspirational publisher Summerside Press celebrated significant milestones since its launch last fall into the CBA market with its Love Finds You regional romance fiction line. President Carlton Garborg reported the house had 400,000 books shipped or on order since the October 2008 launch of the line, which sets stories of romance in real U.S. cities with quirky names or histories. Melody Carlson signedher Love Finds You in Sisters, Oregon (Sept.) at ICRS; the bestselling author really does live in Sisters. Summerside also announced the signing of popular writing team of Brock and Bodie Thoene for three books, and a new romantic suspense line to be developed by veteran CBA fiction editor Susan Downs for release in spring 2010. Susan May Warren and Tricia Goyer are inaugural authors. The family-owned Summerside was developed by gift and paper publisher Ellie Claire in Bloomington, Minn.

Read more about ICRS 2009 in PW’s July 22 Religion BookLine.