Most bookstores celebrate their 10th anniversary with a special author appearance or perhaps a month of special sales. Not so Northern Books & Gifts in Duluth, Minn. Northern Lights celebrated its first decade with three special events, spaced out over six months. All the events were held offsite, in order to accommodate the huge crowds.
Anita Zager opened Northern Lights Books & Gifts in August 1993. At the time, the 900-sq.-ft. store, just a few yards from the shores of Lake Superior, stocked 10,000 titles. Zager expanded the store in 1996. Now, the 1,700-sq.-ft. store holds twice its original inventory. Northern Lights is a full-service general bookstore, and specializes in regional titles, particularly Great Lakes shipping titles. "We know we can't stock everything—so we stock what's new in literary fiction and children's books, as well as what's unique to this region. Regional titles are very important to us. We know our customers, and we know what they want to read. And we know that if it's in grocery stores, Costco or Walmart, we don't need to carry it," Zager told PW.
Northern Lights kicked off its 10th-year celebration with a Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix book release party at midnight on June 21. The party was held at the Lake Superior Train Museum, which is housed with other cultural arts organizations in a renovated train station in downtown Duluth now called the St. Louis County Heritage & Arts Center (or "the Depot"). At the stroke of midnight the "Hogwarts Express" pulled up to the station, and 500 people stood on line to climb aboard, one by one, and receive copies of Harry Potter's fifth adventure. Approximately 550 copies of J.K. Rowling's latest were sold by the afternoon of June 21.
On November 9, the store continued its anniversary celebration with a visit by popular children's author Jan Brett (On Noah's Ark, Putnam). An estimated 600— 700 people attended Brett's Sunday morning presentation in the Depot's Great Hall, followed by a book signing which lasted for two hours. Zager reported that 350 books by Brett were sold at this event.
Northern Lights concluded its anniversary celebration on December 4 with an evening of readings, music, and food, called "Light Up the Night—10 Years of Sharing Our Voices." Regional authors Bart Sutter (Cold Comfort, Univ. of Minnesota Press), Ellie Schoenfeld (Difficult Valentines, Fallow Deer Books) and Anthony Bukoski (Time Between Trains, SMU Press) read from their most recent works. Once again, the event was held offsite at the Depot to accommodate the crowd.
Zager reports that, as Northern Lights enters its 11th year, sales are up 15% over last year. She attributed the vitality of her store, after a decade in business, to a number of factors, particularly its commitment to customer service. "We know our top customers—we run reports every couple of months to keep us up to date on who they are and what they're reading," Zager said. "Our staff [of six part-time employees] is really keyed into customer service, recognizing our customers, making them feel that we welcome their business, never taking their loyalty for granted. Our frequent buyers receive discounts on any book they choose to buy, not just on New York Times bestsellers. And I can't say enough about special orders. We happily take special orders. And if our distributors can turn around in one day, that makes us look good. Customer service—it makes business happen."
"I can visualize staying here and doing this for a long time," Zager said, pondering the future. "I'm doing what I love. I own a bookstore in a region blessed with great authors and strong publishers who publish important books. I have a great staff. My customers are voracious, though discriminating, readers. This potent combination of factors contributes to Northern Lights' success."