Holiday Sales and Spirits Swell

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After an enthusiastic and profitable kickoff to the holiday season, sales and spirits remained high through the end of the year at a number of indie bookstores surveyed by Bookselling This Week.

Andy Weinberger, co-owner of Readers’ Books, said sales at the Sonoma, California, bookstore were up for the month of December.

“I noticed a different vibe,” he said, adding that the re-election of Obama was a relief to many of his customers. “I think it has buoyed people’s spirits. People seem to be opening their wallets and a lot of tourism is coming back to California. I’m optimistic for 2013.”

During its New Year’s Day sale, Readers’ Books discounted holiday items and served Bloody Marys to customers. “We had a little party, sold some stuff, and had fun, which is a good thing,” Weinberger said. “Everyone was in a good mood throughout the end of the year.”

The season’s bestsellers at Readers’ Books were Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club (Knopf),which sold out, and Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Team of Rivals (Simon & Schuster).

At Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona, co-owner and marketing manager Cindy Dach observed, “It was an interesting year in that it didn’t have a big lead title. This year seemed far more diversified.” Chris Ware’s Building Stories (Pantheon) did better than expected at the store, as did Jon Meacham’s Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power (Random House).

Changing Hands also sold out of Kobo Minis during both the two-day November and three-day December special $49 promotions.

“The sale really had an impact,” Dach said. “Those were the big days we noticed a difference. It will be interesting to see what happens going forward.”

Changing Hands’ sales were up a small amount over last year, both for the holiday season and overall. “They’re small percentage increases but we’re really excited about it,” said Dach.

Changing Hands’ New Year’s Day sale brought a crowd. Everything in the store was discounted, and sales for the day were above last year. “It was incredible,” said Dach, adding that there was a line at the door an hour before the store opened.

In addition to Changing Hands’ many regulars, there were a lot of new faces in the crowd, who had been introduced to the store through events held over the past year.

At New Orleans’ Garden District Book Shop,owner Britton Trice reported that sales were up for the year, though down slightly for the month. “It certainly felt as busy as last year,” he said, adding that the slight drop could be the related to a smaller number of events held this December.

Garden District recently hosted a Will Schwalbe event, which boosted sales for The End of Your Live Book Club. Local books also did really well, said Trice, as the store sold many books about Louisiana history, music, and cuisine. “There was something for everybody in terms of local books,” he said.

“In December we definitely see a lot more people — people who are not regular monthly book buyers,” said Trice. “It’s a great way for us to engage those people and make them permanent customers by helping them find a perfect book for whomever they’re looking for. You can see the relief on customers’ faces when you give them good customer service.”

At Katy Budget Booksin Houston, Texas, sales were up significantly following Small Business Saturday, and the store continued to be very busy through the New Year.

During the store’s New Year’s Day sale, “we set an all-time record,” said store manager Richard Deupree. To his surprise, 50 Shades of Grey (Vintage)is still going strong in the small conservative Texas community, and it was the top-selling title during the holiday season. Katy Budget Books also did well with Kobo Mini, selling most of its stock during the special promotions.

Monte Cristo Bookshop in New London, Connecticut, which opened in early December, had a very successful first holiday season. “Sales were triple our expectations, considering we have only marketed ourselves through social networking,” said co-owner Chris Jones. Monte Cristo sold many gift certificates, and there was a lot of in-store traffic, which helped staff members quickly get up to speed with store operations.

The holiday season proved to Jones that the New London needed a bookstore. “We were welcomed with open arms,” he said, adding that one customer entered the store clapping his hands.

At Monte Cristo, the local author section was hugely popular. Until the Robin Walks Onto the Snow (3Houses) by Stamford resident Bernice L. Rocque was a standout success.

“Holiday sales were really good,” said Lacy Simons, owner of hello hello books in Rockland, Maine. The store was very busy on Small Business Saturday, and then fell quiet for the next three weeks “to the point where I started to deeply freak out,” said Simons. “And then in the middle of the month, it was all of a sudden amazing again.” One of the days leading up to Christmas was the best business day the store has had, she said.

Some of the season’s bestsellers were Dancing With Jesus (Running Press), How to Tell if Your Cat Is Plotting to Kill You (Andrews McMeel), and Underwater Dogs (Little, Brown).

“Our customers have a great sense of humor,” said Simons. “Or maybe they just tolerate mine.”

hello hello also sold many books by local authors, including Taste, Memory: Forgotten Foods, Lost Flavors and Why They Matter by Portland author David Buchanan (Chelsea Green). Sales for the title were so strong, Simons made it the store’s January Book of the Month.

Simons also noted that many more customers seemed to be aware of the effects of their shopping choices. “I definitely noticed a lot more people saying directly to me, ‘I know I have a lot of options, I know I can shop online, but I want to support you,’” she said. “People are making more of an effort to shop locally, and taking pride in that.

“It’s interesting to see that shift, and it gives me a lot more hope.”