Amid the swirl of bad industry news, powerHouse Books, the indie publisher/bookseller based in Brooklyn, is reporting that sales in its bookstore are up solidly. The powerHouse Arena, a two-tiered, 10,000-sq.-ft. office/bookstore/event space in Dumbo, has seen a jump in revenue of 33% over the past year. The key? All that elbow room, for starters.
The Arena, which opened in 2006 (after the publisher relocated from TriBeCa), was always envisioned as more cultural hub than bookstore. That approach seems to be paying off. While the Arena offers more than 200 titles (most published by powerHouse), its real draw is as a party space. Susanne Konig, senior v-p at powerHouse and overseer of the Arena, said the goal was always “to move away from the traditional concept of a bookstore and its traditional events.”
Taking advantage of the Arena's sprawling, loft-like interior, Konig has worked to ensure powerHouse events are all-out parties rather than staid readings. Attention is paid to pairing the right music with the right book—performers from Kool DJ Red Alert to the MisShapes have played book parties—and an open bar is almost always part of the equation. (Konig said powerHouse never charges a cover.) As Sara Rosen, v-p of marketing and publicity, put it, the emphasis is on “entertaining, dazzling” events.
Konig, who estimates she spends about 20% of her time planning events, said the space went from hosting two to three events a month to its current six. And while the parties do spike book sales (through foot traffic), they also raise the profile of the event space, which is available for other publishers to rent. Harry Abrams hosted an Irvine Welsh reading at the Arena and, in December Chronicle is throwing a bash for graphic designer Ed Roth's Stencil 101; partygoers will be able to make their own tote bags while munching on handmade stenciled chocolates from a Manhattan bakery, the Chocolate Bar.
To maximize the Arena's potential as a publishing party spot, powerHouse has hired a freelancer to focus on booking other houses' events. Konig thinks it's a logical fit and, so far, publishers seem happy; after Abrams's event, Konig said, Irvine Welsh told her that, though he'd drawn about 50 more people at a Barnes & Noble reading the night before, it was a “sad space.” The powerHouse event, he said, with its mix of music and eager partygoers, was “inspiring.”