It’s not just authors, books, and panels drawing the attention of booksellers attending Winter Institute 2024. Several attendees at this year's conference in Cincinnati are coping with issues back home at their stores—and the gossip has gotten booksellers on the show floor buzzing.

After the announcement, a few days ago, that Barnes & Noble was opening five new stores in Chicago, including a 16,000-sq.-ft. outlet in a historic Wicker Park building, a customer of the nearby Volumes Bookcafe sent an email to B&N CEO James Daunt, expressing concern that such a move by B&N would imperil Volumes and several other indies in the area. In an email response later posted in full to author Rebecca Makkai's Facebook page, Daunt insisted that B&N would “never intrude on the locality of an independent bookseller of new books.”

In the email, Daunt went on to claim that Volumes is “a café with a very small selection of books,” and thus that B&N opening a store in the neighborhood would not constitute competition. Volumes is in a 2,400-square-foot space, with 8,000-10,000 books in its inventory. He concluded by writing, “I defend entirely our opening in Wicker Park, whilst also maintaining my commitment to never open a bookstore which threatens the sales, let alone the livelihood, of an independent bookseller of new books.”

Describing the email as “infuriating,” Makkai urged her Facebook friends and others to “rage-share it” and to support Volumes and other Chicago indies. She did not indicate how she obtained the email Daunt sent; the salutation refers to a “Ms. Sparks.”

In Cincinnati, Volumes owner Rebecca George had some harsh words for Daunt. “Tell James [Daunt] that Volumes is a fucking bookstore," George told PW after news of the email began to spread at the show. “The irony of this is that my customer forwarded to me the email just as I was about to leave for Winter Institute—for the ninth time. How are we not a bookstore when the café is only 20% of our sales?”

When asked if she intends to reach out to Daunt, George said she did not, but that she instead is relying on customers to do so. However, she added, “we’re going to go nuclear if B&N got any help from the city or the state” to move into the Wicker Park space.

Meanwhile, Alex George (no relation), the owner of Skylark Books in Columbia, Mo., found himself this week in the same predicament as Danny Caine of the Raven Bookstore in Lawrence, Kan., did last year, when his spouse was offered a job in Cleveland. George’s spouse, Alexandra Socarides, the associate provost at the University of Missouri, has been offered the position of provost at Emerson College in Boston.

Relating to PW that booksellers at WI2024 have been speculating that he will sell the store to move to Massachusetts, George said, during a break between WI2024 panel sessions, that he “doesn’t know what to do yet and we don’t know what things will look like,” but that “one thing that I’m going to do is, I am going to carry on. The store is not for sale—at this time.” George intends to meet with Caine during the conference to discuss the feasibility of owning a bookstore remotely—although Caine himself sold 49% of shares in the Raven to seven employees before he moved to Cleveland from Lawrence.

Finally, New Jersey booksellers Kaila Boulware Sykes and her husband, Raymond Sykes, founders of Hidden Gems Bookstore in New Brunswick, learned at the beginning of February that they’d need to vacate the bricks-and-mortar space they share with an art gallery, Above Art Studios. They’ll need to move their inventory—80% used and 20% new books—out by the end of the month.

The Sykeses were already were registered for WI2024 in Cincinnati, so they came to the trade show with a “Breaking Book News” flyer and a planned fundraiser for their imperiled shop. Boulware Sykes explained that Hidden Gems, a registered nonprofit, needs financial support to establish a permanent location.

“I tell people we started with $30 and a prayer,” Boulware Sykes said, explaining that they acquired their original inventory from a garage sale before establishing their store in June 2021. Now, they want to keep serving their schools and all-ages creative population with initiatives like their “1,000 Free Books Tour,” in which they pilot a minivan full of giveaway books to boost community reading. “Our goal is to advocate for a literate world while making education accessible and fun,” Boulware Sykes said.

WI2024 turns out to be a good place to seek advice. By making connections with fellow indie booksellers and organizations including the Book Industry Charitable (Binc) Foundation, the Sykes family hopes to keep Hidden Gems vibrant.

The number of books in Volumes' inventory was incorrect in an earlier version of this story and has been corrected.