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Publishers Weekly Bookselling

Post-Holiday Sideline Survey
Cynthia Clark -- 1/31/00
PW checks in with booksellers to find the best, unusual and profitable sidelines of the season

Sidelines showed a remarkable expansion throughout 1999, both in products available and in the variety of merchandise booksellers placed in their stores. While a number of booksellers prefer to consider only cards and calendars as their sideline mainstays, many find the search for unusual yet appropriate nonbook products worth the time and effort, especially as superstores and Internet vendors continue to capture customer dollars. PW's post-holiday business survey takes a look at the current state of sidelines.

Gayle Shanks, co-owner of Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Ariz., noted that 1999 saw a double-digit increase in business at her two stores. The newer and larger of the two, which shares space with a bakery, posted a 40% gain over 1998. Sideline sales accounted for about 15% to 20% of total annual sales. According to Shanks, "Remainders and sidelines have kept independent stores alive. We sell everything. Wind chimes, globes, music, candles, bath products, calligraphy kits and table-top fountains, as well as a lot of toys, educational and silly ones, drums and musical instruments and handmade pottery by a local artist." Notable bestselling nontraditional sidelines in the stores include $35 Zen boards from Santa Barbara and Sun Co. and squirting goldfish. Also popular were many of the offerings from Chronicle Books, including Dancing with Cats; Breaking Bounds, a dance calendar; Man's Best Friend: 2000 from William Wegman and The Far Side Off the Wall Calendar.

At Hawley-Cooke Booksellers Inc., in Louisville, Ky., co-owner Graham Cooke pondered steady sales for 1999 despite one of the three Hawley-Cooke stores becoming smaller. In sidelines specifically, the results were clear: December 1999 showed an 80% increase over 1998. "In reaction to the superstores and e-commerce competitors, we have increased the gift and accessory department. This year, and through the holiday, it was a resounding success." Calendars alone were up 9% for the holiday season, with the Far Side Page-A-Day and Kentucky wall calendars taking the lead in what Cooke termed "a better mix."

Owner Sonia Williams-Babers of The Black Bookworm in Houston, Tex., started her business as a mail-order company, but did so well "we decided to open the store earlier than planned." Sidelines are about 25% to 30% of total annual sales. "We carry greeting cards, Kwanzaa cards, kinaras and replacement candles and other accessories, Kwanzaa votive candles with the holiday colors, supplies and gift bags, as well as incense. We also carry Bible covers, Afrocentric coffee mugs and stationery, Kuumba Kollectibles [from a Washington, D.C., company], African-American sorority and fraternity paraphernalia and Afrocentric mouse pads from Dobson Products in Chicago." Calendar highlights for this year were 365 Days of Black History, Men of the African Ark, Just Girls (a regional title), The Art of Jonathan Green and A Separate Cinema.

At Eso Won Books in Los Angeles, Calif., an African-American bookstore co-owned and managed by James Fugate, sidelines account for about 15% of annual sales. In addition to bookmarks, greeting cards and boxed notes, explained Fugate, "We carry videos -- about 400 to 600 titles at any one time. I wished we had more on hand; we had such a jump in video sales we probably could have sold twice as many." The season's video bestseller was Spike Lee's Four Little Girls.

Creative Visions, New York City, found a surprise bestseller this year in Chronicle Books' Wonder Woman Address Book, which, according to manager Peter Dracher, "has a real campy feel about it and sold a lot. It was a great stocking stuffer." (Not willing to be a pushover, Chronicle's Superman Address Book also sold well.) Handblown glass ornaments from Germany and Austria took the "holiday bestseller" title.

At Little Professor Book Center in Columbus, Ohio, manager Eric Schwendeman noted a slight decrease in holiday sales from 1998, the result of "several different factors, among them a location in a strip mall, with competition from two new major malls relatively close by, and Internet sales." Sidelines made up about 5% of total annual sales. Some of the stronger selling trinkets included a floating glass fish from LS Arts Inc. in Damia, Fla.; Brainy Beenies (beanie hats of famous people such as Freud and Shakespeare) from the Unemployed Philosopher's Guild in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and "funky" reading glasses, priced between $20 and $60, from Cal Optix.

In Baltimore, Md., the four Bibelot bookstores had very strong holiday sales, reported owner Brian Weese, and sales were up 8% to 9% (including a new store). Customer attitude was "180 degrees different from last year. Customers were much more amicable. Our multiple locations really worked for us." Although sidelines make up a relatively small 3% to 4% of total sales, Weese took a chance this year and expanded his traditional card and calendar offerings to include a handsome bed desk from Winsome Wood in Portland, Ore. "We stocked eight to 10 pieces per store and sold out," said Weese. A well-chosen sideline can be a significant ally
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