A record-breaking 563 independent bookstores across all 50 states participated in the fourth annual Indies First on Small Business Saturday (SBS) on November 26. Bookstores celebrated by hosting a variety of creative events and inviting authors to serve as guest booksellers for the day. Many booksellers who spoke with Bookselling This Week reported strong sales throughout the weekend as well as enthusiasm from customers who were specifically shopping in the spirit of Small Business Saturday. Based on BookScan data from reporting ABA member stores, sales for the week ending Saturday, November 26, showed a 14.2 percent increase in units sold over the comparable week in 2015.
“Though we know that every store did not see an increase this year, we are obviously delighted about the overall effect that Indies First and Small Business Saturday had on sales at independent bookstores around the country,” said Oren Teicher, CEO of the American Booksellers Association.
Small Business Saturday sponsor American Express reported on Tuesday that the outpouring of support for local businesses across the country hit record highs, with 72 percent of U.S. consumers aware of the day. In addition, more shoppers reported visiting local independent businesses on Small Business Saturday 2016 than ever before, according to results of the Small Business Saturday Consumer Insights Survey, released by the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) and American Express. An estimated 112 million consumers reported shopping at small businesses on Small Business Saturday, marking a 13 percent increase from 2015.
Over the 28 days preceding Indies First celebrations, social media was abuzz with conversations about the event. Notably, the reach for content shared on the ABA Facebook page during the week before Indies First (the total number of people who could have potentially seen social content) showed an increase of 55 percent over average reach for a seven-day period. Data also shows that over the 28 days prior to Indies First, impressions on the ABA’s Twitter channel were up 58.4 percent over the average.
On Small Business Saturday, author Sherman Alexie, who founded Indies First on Small Business Saturday in 2013, celebrated in style in Seattle, Washington, by inviting two dozen people, including Seattle city council members, reporters from the Seattle Times and the Seattle Review of Books, musicians, and fellow authors, to join him on a tour bus to visit three indie bookstores in the area. Adorned with festive blue-and-white Indies First scarves, Alexie’s merry band spent time shopping and interacting with customers at Third Place Books, University Book Store, and The Elliott Bay Book Company.
In Waterbury, Vermont, Bridgeside Books celebrated a trifecta of buy-local events following Thanksgiving: Civilized Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cider Monday, topped off by Giving Tuesday.
Taking the lead from booksellers in the U.K. who celebrated Civilized Friday last year, Bridgeside Books treated customers to mimosas, tea and baked goods on vintage china, and chair and hand massages throughout the day Friday. “We had a fabulous response,” said owner Hiata DeFeo, and sales were definitely up over the same weekend last year. “We were opening the door and greeting folks with, ‘Happy Civilized Friday.’ We had a great day.”
Foot traffic continued to be strong at Bridgeside Books throughout Small Business Saturday. “We had a lot of shoppers who very specifically wait for Small Business Saturday to come in,” said DeFeo. The bookstore participated in the Waterbury Holiday Artisan’s Boutique, which pairs local artists with area businesses. Bridgeside featured birch jewelry from Vermont Birch Company, knotted goods, ornaments, candles, and one-of-a-kind wearable art from Cosmos Jewelry.
On Cider Monday, the store offered hot cider and Cold Hollow Cider Mill donuts along with “good, old-fashioned customer service.” Giving Tuesday marked the kickoff for the store’s annual Giving Tree for the Children’s Literacy Foundation. Bridgeside Books offered 20 percent off any children’s book purchased for donation to the foundation.
DeFeo takes pride in Bridgeside Books’ ability to offer unique and creative events throughout the year. “It’s about engaging with different members of our community and really making folks feel like it’s their bookstore,” she said.
Kiren Valjee, owner of the new Third House Books & Coffee in Gainesville, Florida, which had its soft opening on October 28, said his inaugural Indies First celebration was a success.
Third House welcomed Ibram X. Kendi, winner of the National Book Award in nonfiction for Stamped From the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Nation Books), who signed books, gave a talk, and took part in a Q&A session with readers. The event also featured environmental journalist Cynthia Barnett, whose book Rain: A Natural and Cultural History (Crown Publishing Group) was longlisted for the National Book Award in nonfiction in 2015 and who also served as a judge for the 2016 awards.
“Our first Indies First was really great. We got really lucky; both Kendi and Barnett are professors at the University of Florida, so they were able to come while students were on their Thanksgiving break,” said Valjee, who has been using his status as an alum of the university’s MFA program to collaborate on events, including a pop-up shop on campus during the Florida Writers Festival.
Six local authors visited Loganberry Books in Shaker Heights, Ohio, for Indies First, with one appearing every hour beginning at 11:00 a.m., including Tricia Springstubb, Nikki Delamotte, D.M. Pulley, Laura Wimbels, Joanna Connors, and Lauren Pacini.
“Our holiday weekend is larger than one day; our street celebrates something called the Larchmere Holiday Stroll, which is Friday, Saturday, and Sunday,” said Loganberry Books owner Harriett Logan. “The biggest draw of the weekend is, I think, just getting out and being with family.”
In addition to the authors visiting on Saturday, Loganberry Books offered Indies First tote bag giveaways, cookies and cider (to the tune of nine gallons), and wrapped ARC giveaways with every purchase.
Loganberry also promoted its annual Otis’ Old Curiosity Shop in the store’s annex gallery, which normally features local artists’ work. This year’s Curiosity Shop (named after the bookstore cat, Otis) was “jam-packed with educational toys and games and biblio-tchotchkes,” said Logan. “That is always a big hit.”
Store sales were even compared to last year’s Small Business Saturday, Logan said. “Friday used to be our big day, Saturday used to be 20–25 percent less than that, and Sunday much less; this year Saturday was the best day of the three,” she said.
Carla Ketner, who co-owns Chapters Books & Gifts in Seward, Nebraska, with Jared Ketner, said the store’s Indies First celebration featured free totes and gifts with purchase, as well as special offers on signed books.
“We had a great day Saturday. We didn’t have any authors, but we did have a Santa Claus story time and we used the promotional kit from American Express,” said Ketner.
Chapters’ Indies First event took place as the town’s annual holiday parade and festival was proceeding downtown, she added, which enhanced the already-festive mood.
“It was fun, and the weather was perfect. This year, in terms of sales, we did almost exactly the same,” Ketner said. “Compared to last Black Friday weekend, we were up $100 for the weekend, even though last year we also did a big author event on Friday.”
Janice Holmes, owner of The Old Fox Books, a new general-interest bookstore in Annapolis, Maryland, said Indies First on Small Business Saturday presented the perfect opportunity to welcome the community to her store for the first time.
“It’s definitely been a community effort here to get the store going, so we put a Christmas tree in our front room that we decorated with pictures of all the people who helped us pull this together: the plumber, the carpenter, the painter, the people who came and stocked the shelves,” said Holmes. “We’re so grateful for the really supportive community here. It seems like in retail, bookstores are the nexus of the community and we are definitely a community space.”
Going forward, The Old Fox will offer a wide variety of books for children and adults, fresh-brewed coffee, and a community table for group conversations and “to promote civic discourse, which is much needed in these times,” Holmes said.
In Riverside, California, Cellar Door Books invited Julia Claiborne Johnson, author of the February 2016 Indie Next List pick Be Frank With Me (William Morrow), to serve as a guest bookseller for Indies First; Cellar Door also offered discounts on Thanksgiving books, a drawing for a Penguin Classics skateboard, and a dinosaur-themed story time.
“We were really, really lucky to get Julia Claiborne Johnson,” said owner Linda Sherman-Nurick. “She was a bookseller and she talked about her book with people. That was really fun.”
Many customers came in less for the events and more to support the bookstore on Small Business Saturday, said Sherman-Nurick. “People traveled to get to a small business in order to support Small Business Saturday. People seem to really appreciate the fact that there’s a difference. I got a lot of comments about that,” she said. “Our regulars came in, but people who don’t always come in came in specifically to purchase books that day. It seems to be making an impact.”
DIESEL, A Bookstore, owned by John Evans and Alison Reid, celebrated Indies First at the store’s locations in Santa Monica, Oakland, and Larkspur, California, with guest authors hand-selling books.
Featured authors included Joe Ide (IQ, Mulholland Books), Jennifer Caloyeras (Strays, Ashland Creek Press), and Jessica Knoll (Luckiest Girl Alive, Simon & Schuster) at the Brentwood Country Mart store in Santa Monica; Laura Holmes Haddad (This Is Cancer, Seal Press) and Elizabeth Rynecki (Chasing Portraits, New American Library) at the Larkspur location; and Edan Lepucki (California, Little, Brown) and Kate Schatz (Rad Women Worldwide, Ten Speed Press) in Oakland.
DIESEL events coordinator Cheryl Ryan reported that all of the invited authors did a great job helping customers. “Jennifer Caloyeras arrived when we opened and she jumped right in helping customers with book recommendations,” she said. “Jessica Knoll already said she’d like to come back and help again.”
For Indies First, DIESEL announced that it would be donating 10 percent of the profits from purchases made at all three stores on SBS to the Defenders of Standing Rock, South Dakota, which supports the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. DIESEL called its initiative “Indies First for First Peoples.”
“One of our first customers of the day was a woman who verified right away that today was Indies First and that today was the day DIESEL was donating 10 percent of purchases to Standing Rock. She bought a big stack!” said Ryan. “We also had multiple phone calls from people who had ordered books and rather than pay when they picked them up, they called us to pay over the phone to support Standing Rock.”
This year’s Small Business Saturday “was the best that we’ve ever had in the five years that we’ve owned the store,” said co-owner Carol Spurling. “It was just a great weekend.” Sales were almost twice what they were in 2012, the first Small Business Saturday under her ownership, Spurling said, and up more than 20 percent over last year.
Since many local authors are out of town over the Thanksgiving weekend, Spurling said BookPeople hosted local artists Julene Ewert and Alicia Cunningham for a mini in-store holiday market. The store also benefitted from a busy football weekend at both nearby universities and a punch card promotion coordinated by Moscow’s buy local organization.
“We have heard from people that they like to come to downtown Moscow because we have a great variety of stores to shop at,” said Spurling, adding that new stores and restaurants have been opening throughout town. “We’re lucky the downtown has been getting better and better.”
Children’s book author Tomie dePaola visited Norwich Bookstore in Norwich, Vermont, on November 26 for his fifth annual signing at the store. He told the Valley News that speaking with kids is a treat. “It’s kind of enjoying the fruits of my labor, and I just love it with when kids come and have discovered books,” dePaola said.
At Watermark Books & Café in Wichita, Kansas, owned by Sarah Bagby, customers received 30 percent off one in-stock book throughout the day, and in the morning, children were treated to a special story time. At noon, guests were invited to wear their Watermark T-shirts and take part in the store’s holiday family picture to get 10 percent off a café lunch.
Watermark’s Indies First celebration also featured promotions for customers spending $50 (a free Indies First tote), $100 (a free tote and a Watermark thermos filled with free coffee), and $150 (a free tote, a thermos, and the chance to enter a drawing to win a tote full of books and Watermark-branded merchandise).
At Winchester Book Gallery in Winchester, Virginia, co-owner Christine Patrick invited six authors to serve as guest hand-sellers: Jason Wright, TJ O’Connor, Pam Webber, Caren Werlinger, Aaron R. Even, and self-published author Jo James.
“They started selling at 10:00 a.m. and went all the way to 6:00 p.m. We had the authors come in at different times during the day,” said Patrick. “Some of the authors did pretty well. We had their own books for them to sell and I’d also asked them to sell the books they love.”
Each year, the store also celebrates Plaid Friday, said Patrick, and she and her staff had a blast giving out Shop Small tote bags and hand-selling books while dressed in plaid.
“We had a good number of people coming through this weekend, with lots of people Christmas shopping,” said Patrick. “It was a really fun day, just not as good as previous years. Although I did do some promotion on Twitter, we just didn’t have quite as many transactions.”
In addition to complimentary coffee and treats, Legends Bookstore in Cody, Wyoming, offered a wide array of discounts on everything from Christmas-themed items to calendars to coloring books to puzzles, as well as a 10 percent discount on all books for Small Business Saturday.
The store also featured artwork from local artist Kyle Hanson and collected books for local organizations that serve children in need of quality books; tags on the store’s Reading Tree provided book suggestions for children of all ages.
Owner Teresa Muhic noted that while many people around Cody, a small gateway town to Yellowstone National Park, tend to head north to Billings, Montana, to do their major shopping, Friday was the surprise standout day for the store. “We actually did 50 percent more on Friday,” said Muhic, who suspected people shopped in Cody on Friday but went to Billings on Saturday.
“We had a good Saturday,” Muhic said, adding that the store opened in July 2015 so year-over-year Small Business Saturday numbers aren’t precise. “It was a strong day relative to what we see in our average days through the holidays. We were actually up about 20 percent.”
Tara Lombardozzi, manager of The Book Cove in Pawling, New York, said the store celebrated both Indies First and Book Cove’s 40th anniversary on Saturday, welcoming Barbara Learning to sign her book Kick Kennedy: The Charmed Life and Tragic Death of the Favorite Kennedy Daughter (Thomas Dunne Books). The store also served champagne and hors d’oeuvres.
“We had our original founder, Nancy Tanner, come in and a lot of our regular customers who have become like family to us. Nancy had a vision 40 years ago and she brought it to fruition,” said Lombardozzi. “This was also our very first Indies First event, and we couldn’t have asked for better timing. It was fabulous. Sales-wise, I would say it was one of the best Saturdays we have ever had.” —Liz Button and Sydney Jarrard
Don’t miss out!
ABA members have through December 3 to take advantage of Baker & Taylor’s special offer on all trade books, The offer is designed to help stores make the most of the holiday season.