Hopping on the Bus -- With Book Lovers

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"Bookstore Tourism," a term copyrighted by Larry Portzline, is a grassroots effort to promote and support independent bookstores by marketing them as tourist destinations and thereby creating a new travel niche for book lovers. Portzline, a Harrisburg-based writer for the Pennsylvania State Senate and an adjunct college instructor, has developed this concept so enthusiastically over the past two years that he has written and published a book, Bookstore Tourism: The Book Addict's Guide to Planning & Promoting Bookstore Road Trips for Bibliophiles & Other Bookshop Junkies (Bookshop Junkie Press).

The idea stemmed from Portzline's own book addiction and his conversation with a colleague who organized restaurant adventure trips to New York City. Both immediately sensed the possibilities. "If someone else were offering [a bookstore trip], I'd go," Portzline recalled thinking. Manhattan's Greenwich Village seemed a likely venue for the one-day excursion and the first trip, sponsored by the Community Education Center of Harrisburg Area Community College in July 2003, sold out in less than two weeks. Two subsequent trips in the fall of 2003 were filled with people from the first trip's waiting list.

Portzline now maintains a Web site, www.BookstoreTourism.com, and has led a number of sold-out "bookstore adventures" to New York City and Washington, D.C., each under the auspices of two colleges in central Pennsylvania. He estimates that on each of the six trips of 45 bibliophiles he has led over the past 12 months, an average of 200 books were sold. Based on the conservative estimate of $15 per book, book purchases totaled about $18,000 for the year. And that's only the beginning, Portzline told BTW.

"Some ideas are just meant to be shared," he says frequently. He wants others to replicate the idea around the country and internationally. "I hope that libraries, travel agents, motorcoach companies, community organizations -- all adapt Bookstore Tourism." Upcoming trips are scheduled for the Harrisburg region and for Charlottesville, Virginia, in conjunction with the Virginia Festival of the Book, as well as more trips to Greenwich Village and Washington, D.C.

At his table at last month's "New York Is Book Country" celebration, Portzline promoted the concept and the book to many visitors. One visitor who stopped by was a woman from Omaha, Nebraska, who had brought a group to New York after seeking advice from Portzline. She clutched his small map of Greenwich Village complete with the locations of its 21 independent bookstores.

Portzline gives out information freely -- his book, which retails for $10, can be downloaded from his Web site as a free PDF. Produced as a POD through Ingram-owned Lightning Source, it is available both through Ingram and Baker & Taylor.

The concept of Bookstore Tourism has been touted in publications as diverse as Bus & Motorcoach News, The Chronicle of Higher Education, and The Guardian (UK). In May 2004, USA Today listed BookstoreTourism.com as one of its "Hot Sites," concluding, "This site, offered by Larry Portzline, suggests how (and why) a trip to one or several bookstores could be just the thing to help you see a city -- yours or someone else's -- in a whole new light. And what's not to love about a mini-vacation that suggests its own souvenirs?" --Nomi Schwartz