California Bookstore Day Generates Much Enthusiasm

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Saturday, May 3, brought out swarms of avid readers and book lovers to more than 90 independent bookstores across the state of California for the first ever California Bookstore Day. Booksellers reported high sales and widespread enthusiasm as they welcomed customers in for special events and literary-themed merchandise throughout the day.

“I’m completely thrilled with how it went. It felt like a huge undertaking and a huge success, and so much of that was what booksellers did and how amazingly creative they got with their events,” said Samantha Schoech, coordinator for California Bookstore Day, who noted the incredible camaraderie of the indie booksellers during the planning phases and their enthusiastic response to developing customized celebrations.

“So many bookstores found great, amazing new ways to entice and bring in customers. Our 13 items were a big draw, but most bookstores had huge increases in sales and very little of it was due to the items; it was due to getting people in the store. I really want to give credit to the bookstores.”

Throughout the day, some stores reported lines out the doors of their shops and sharp sales increases, many surpassing 2013’s same-day sales by early afternoon and with plenty of hours left in the day. When Mysterious Galaxy reached last year’s sales figures at lunchtime, the customer whose purchase pushed them over the line received a plush teddy bear donated by MerryMakers toy company.

The specially created items were a great catalyst to get people talking about California Bookstore Day and to get community members out to their independent bookstores on Saturday, said Hut Landon, executive director for the Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, which co-sponsored the event with the Southern California Independent Booksellers Association.

“The items allowed us to talk about the day over and over again — they really worked as a mechanism or linchpin for getting people into the store, and then when you got in the store, there were the items, there were parties, there were books, whatever each store did,” said Landon. “Stores really made an effort to do things, to create special displays, to bring in authors, to serve food; whatever it was, everybody did something different, as most indie stores are wont to do.”

Noting the huge morale boost that California Bookstore Day served up to booksellers, Landon said, “This underscores, as much as anything, the collective health and well-being of independent bookstores around the country. I think this event speaks volumes about how well independents are doing right now. I’m not surprised by it but I am gratified that it worked.”

Booksellers posted plenty of pictures and comments on social media throughout the day, which attested to California Bookstore Day’s success, and celebrations rang throughout the state. Special events included live music at Pegasus Books, adult storytime readings from drag queen Motha Chucka at Books Inc. in San Francisco’s Castro district, a prize wheel for spinning at Vroman’s, and a kids’ story writing workshop at Green Apple Books and Music, where attendees co-wrote and illustrated the story The Adventures of Super Unicorn Man and the Firefighting Dolphin, Part One: Attack of T-Rex Guy.

Customers enjoyed a smorgasbord of offerings at Gallery Bookshop in Mendocino, where store owner Christie Olson Day said that California Bookstore Day was fantastic. “We had a great time, customers responded wonderfully well, and our sales were up 63 percent,” she said.  Located in a small community, Olson Day planned a big event to draw customers in. “We had a feeling that because our local population is so small we were not going to have a critical mass of Don DeLillo and Wendy MacNaughton fans,” said Olson Day. “The special items were cool, but we knew that we had to build an event.”

Advertising a schedule packed with hourly tasty treats, including donuts, pies, bacon skewers, meatballs, and more, Gallery promoted a different party for each hour of the day and offered a prize to the locals who chose a party to attend and brought the most friends. “We were not surprised that martinis were the single most popular thing,” said Olson Day.

Throughout the day, Gallery’s customers participated in a scavenger hunt, searching high and low for a classic they had never read or a profanity in a book. To make the hunt G-rated, kids looked for books with words in foreign languages. “It’s a party: you need food, you need friends, and you need things to do,” said Olson Day. The winner of the scavenger hunt is looking forward to having an after-hours, private party in the bookstore, an idea the store has been developing and will be offering as a paid service in the future.

Olson Day was also impressed with the number of people, especially kids, who were willing to offer up their bad book confessions, their comments written on a slate board and ranging from “I was caught reading inappropriate material in study hall,” to “I hate Hemingway...but I love Skippyjon Jones.”

Between a huge sales jump and the overall excitement of customers and store staff, Olson Day is eager for another California Bookstore Day. “We literally can’t wait to do it again,” she said. “I don’t want to wait a year!”

Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park carried all but two of the specialty items for California Bookstore Day and had a line of customers trailing out the front door, with the first customer showing up more than an hour before the store opened.

“People were really drawn to those highly specialized collectible items,” said store manager Amanda Hall, such as Neil Gaiman’s short story “The Sleeper & the Spindle,” the original print featuring a Lemony Snicket quote, the literary map of California, and Brian Selznick’s Hugo lithograph. “We had people purchasing gifts for New Yorkers; one person bought something for someone in Switzerland. There was definitely national attention, considering it was just a California event.”

For entertainment, the costumed cast from Grab Bag Theater’s production of Wizard of Oz came by to perform musical numbers and to pose for photographs. To close out the day, Kepler’s hosted a book swap — “kind of like speed dating with books,” said Hall — with 40 guests, wine, food, and local author Tracy Guzeman (The Gravity of Birds).

Customers definitely enjoyed the festivities and the specialty items at Kepler’s, said Hall, who was impressed by the age range of the day’s visitors and how far the message had reached. “Some of the younger crowd are very familiar with Record Store Day and thought that this was a great spin on it, so they came in to check it out,” said Hall.

Manhattan Beach’s {pages} a bookstore welcomed author D.J. MacHale (Storm: The SYLO Chronicles #2, Razorbill), who signed copies of his books for fans, as well as author and swimmer Lynne Cox (Elizabeth, Queen of the Seas, Schwartz & Wade) and singer songwriter and author Alex Woodward (The Sender:  Love Is [Not A Feeling], Hay House), who did readings and played music for the store’s visitors

Lots of people gathered in the store to see the items on offer and customers thoroughly enjoyed the event, with sales at {pages} almost tripling, said store co-owner Linda McLoughlin Figel. “There was a line out the door when we got here, which was what everybody had hoped for.”

Customers at {pages} enjoyed live music, mimosas, and bagels throughout the day, and many new customers made it out to the store. “[California Bookstore Day] cast the net wider and we saw some people that we hadn’t seen before, so I think in terms of broadening our marketing efforts, it accomplished what it intended,” said McLoughlin Figel. “We saw some new faces, which was great.

“Thanks to the inspiration and tremendous efforts of Pete Mulvihill, Hut Landon, and others, California Bookstore Day was a resounding and fun success!”