Indie Bookstores Celebrate Small Business Saturday

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Independent booksellers celebrated this year’s Indies First on Small Business Saturday on November 24 with the typical fun festivities, holiday discounts, and author events, but also with a brand-new charitable initiative: the “Indie Bookstores Give Back on Small Business Saturday” giveaway.

According to American Express, the ninth annual Small Business Saturday kicked off holiday shopping with record levels of reported spending. Spending among U.S. consumers who said they shopped at independent retailers and restaurants reached a record high of an estimated $17.8 billion, with 104 million U.S. consumers shopping or dining at local independently owned businesses that day. In addition, 96 percent of consumers who reported shopping on Small Business Saturday said the day makes them want to shop small all year long, not just during the holiday season.

Sales at independent bookstores nationwide were up 1.3 percent in 2018 over 2017 for the week including Small Business Saturday. For IndieCommerce stores, Small Business Saturday generated a more than 50 percent increase in online sales compared to last year; Black Friday sales were up 28 percent, and Cyber Monday sales were up 12 percent.

This year’s event underscored independent bookstores’ continued resurgence, as recent years have seen hundreds of new stores opening and new owners taking the reins of longstanding shops. In addition, sales at indie bookstores so far in 2018 are up by approximately five percent over last year.

This improvement is due in part to the growth of the localism movement, with American Express’ Small Business Saturday showcasing this driving force. In anticipation of the annual shop local event that coincides with ABA’s Indies First initiative, CBS News aired a segment titled “Small bookstores are booming after nearly being wiped out,” which featured footage from Shakespeare & Co. and Book Culture in New York City among other indies.

“When you come into a store like this and you don’t know what you want and you browse these shelves, you’re going to find books that you didn’t know existed,” American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher told CBS. “If you are engaged in your community, curating your content, having people work the store that are knowledgeable and passionate about books, there absolutely is a formula for success.”

For the second year in a row, award-winning author Jason Reynolds served as the Indies First spokesperson and was integral in indie booksellers’ determination to give back even more this year. To support his mission of providing children in low-income communities with access to books that reflect their own experiences, ABA and American Express worked together with Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing to make available 20,000 special-edition copies of Ghost, the first book in Reynolds’ New York Times bestselling Track series, this holiday season. 

To cap off the #IndiesGiveBack initiative, Reynolds spent Small Business Saturday at MahoganyBooks in Washington, D.C., where he met one-on-one with readers, aspiring writers, and Kesha Lee, founder of #Ward8Reads, the organization MahoganyBooks is partnering with to distribute copies of Ghost in the Ward 8 Anacostia community of D.C.

“We were excited to have Jason Reynolds in our store on the official one-year anniversary of our opening,” said MahoganyBooks co-founders Ramunda Lark Young and Derrick Young. “He’s from the D.C. area, so it was great to have him celebrate with us.”

“He shared, he talked, and he inspired so many people who are looking to write and are navigating what that looks like. He also shared his personal experience and what his journey has been,” the Youngs added. “A lot of these customers have not met him before, so to be able to give them the opportunity to meet this New York Times bestselling author and chat with him one-on-one was phenomenal.”

The Youngs also noted their excitement to be part of the Indie Bookstores Give Back program.

“It’s great to work with an organization like ABA that sees the importance of giving back. #Ward8Reads is very excited to have copies of Ghost to give to students and young people in the community. It’s a powerful program, and we’re glad that our store could be a part of it.”

This year, Jill Miner, owner of Saturn Booksellers in Gaylord, Michigan, partnered with teachers from a local underserved school who chose students to receive a copy of Ghost as part of the Indies First/Small Business Saturday campaign. Saturn celebrated Small Business Saturday by presenting copies to a local teacher, who will be distributing them within their school from now until Christmas.

The Ghost campaign was an “awesome opportunity for us to give back, and it was a huge boon for the whole bookselling community,” Miner said. In addition to presenting Ghost, Saturn Booksellers also offered customers in-store sales and refreshments.

“It was such a blizzard of a weekend,” she added. “Sales as a whole were up, so that was wonderful. It was lovely to see our customers’ appreciation and to know that they really are happy that we’re here. We hope that it continues through the rest of the holiday season.”

Owner Brian Roegge said his store, Chapter2Books in Hudson, Wisconsin, also participated in the Ghost initiative.

“We sent a set of books to Best Academy in Minneapolis,” said Roegge, who owns Chapter2 with his wife, Sue. “We had had Jason come in and visit the school last year and he did a short presentation, and the students absolutely loved it. It’s an inner-city minority school, so the kids really appreciated seeing an author who looked like them.”

Other aspects of this year’s celebration that proved successful included a deal for 20 percent off any book purchased from the regional holiday catalog, as well as a 20 percent discount for customers mentioning any of the articles on the event featured in local publications. The store also welcomed Gary Porter, a local self-published author, who signed books and helped with book selections. 

“Sales weren’t quite as good as last year, but close. But hey, with that kind of vibe, who’s complaining?” said Roegge. “The event started at 10:00 a.m. and I commented to one of the people here who was helping at 5:30 p.m. that it was the first time we didn’t have a customer in the store. And it was steadier than just a mad rush. I don’t think I ever noticed more than one person in line waiting to check out, so it worked out pretty well.”

Roegge said the store had been taking advantage of all the Indies First special publisher terms they could as long as they had enough to meet the minimum requirements, including promotions from both large and small publishers.

Let’s Play Books in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, is distributing 25 special-edition copies of Ghost to underserved young readers throughout its local community this year. Five schools in the Allentown School District will each receive five copies through a teacher or administrator, which each school can circulate directly to students or add to classroom libraries.

“We regularly work with five school districts in the Lehigh Valley, and there are underserved children in all. However, I feel that the benefit of these books will go the furthest in the Allentown School District,” said store owner Kirsten Hess. “The book business is not a lucrative one, and we appreciate this opportunity to give books to children that otherwise may not have them. In addition, we’re giving an additional box of new and gently used books to each school.”

On top of that, on Indies First on Small Business Saturday, the store held a “You Pay Half, We Pay Half” book drive. Customers purchased from a selection of books at 50 percent off to donate to the schools and received a $5 coupon for future use in the shop. Hess said the book drive collected 75 additional books to accompany the 25 copies of Ghost that will be donated to Allentown schools.

“The day’s sales were our best ever,” Hess told Bookselling This Week. “We were up by 22 percent year over year from last Small Business Saturday, and last year’s event was the best sales day in our store's history.”

In Acton, Massachusetts, owner Paul Swydan said his store, The Silver Unicorn Bookstore, opened on March 15, 2018, so this was his first Indies First on Small Business Saturday.

“Saturday went very well. It wasn’t our best day ever, but it was probably a top-five day,” said Swydan. “We didn’t really do any promotion for it because this was our first year and I wanted to see if we needed to, and it turned out we didn’t. It was a very good day.”

The message of Small Business Saturday was in the air even without too much deliberate promotion, he added, and a good crowd showed up for story time with authors Erin Dionne and Mark Hoffmann.

“I saw that some stores ran sales or had different kinds of promotions. We just opened the doors and people came,” he said. “We didn’t do anything different from what we would do on a typical Saturday. We have story time every Saturday morning, so that’s what we did.”

Kathleen Caldwell, owner of A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland, California, said her store hosted a sort of all-day party for readers and customers.

“Saturday was also my anniversary of owning the store for 13 years. It was just a really, really nice, lovely day, and it was nice to celebrate both our customers and being able to say we made it 13 years, which is awesome,” she said. “Our store was also called out on Good Morning America. Becky Worley, their special retail correspondent, said on air that we were her favorite independent business. So I think the day went pretty well.”

For Caldwell, Saturday was also a continuation of A Great Good Place’s year-long #justonebook campaign, which the store created to show residents of the local community of Montclair that just one book can make a difference.

“The campaign basically encourages people to shop local and involves people coming into our store and buying one book,” said Caldwell. “We ask customers to put their money where their mouth is — if you say you believe in community, then come out and support it. For everything we do, we use the hashtag #justonebook. It’s to let people know that shopping locally is what makes a neighborhood vibrant.”

Sales-wise, Caldwell added, the store did about the same as last year, which was really great.

At jaZams in Princeton, New Jersey, owner Joanna Farrugia said that the store’s Princeton location will be teaming up with a librarian at John Witherspoon Middle School to distribute copies of Ghost in the coming weeks for Indies First/Small Business Saturday.

“Each child on what we call the ‘lunch program’ will get a copy of Ghost,” she said. “These are all children with government assistance, living in our own backyard. So far, the count for just sixth grade is 36, but I am hoping to be able to give a book to the seventh- and eighth-graders as well.”

“My 11-year-old son read Ghost and Patina and then made both me and his father read them, and now we are all reading Sunny as a family aloud before Lu comes out,” she added, noting that she also sold many copies on Small Business Saturday after promoting Jason Reynolds to her customers. “This is an amazing series for all children to be able to read, and now some children will actually own the book!”

Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo and Bremerton, Washington, celebrated Small Business Saturday with lefse, a Scandinavian flatbread, as well as discounts, signings with local authors Claire Hallinan and Lisa Preston, galley giveaways, and photos with the Grinch.

Owner Suzanne Droppert told BTW that even her customers contributed to the festivities. “We have a man who bought his own Grinch costume,” she said. “He comes in every Small Business Saturday and looks forward to it every year.”

Like many other stores, Liberty Bay Books also participated in the Indies First/Small Business Saturday Ghost campaign.

“I really wanted to participate mainly for my location in Bremerton. It’s a very diverse community and those schools are really struggling,” she said. “We’re going to deliver the books to two different schools. It was really the teachers who picked the kids who would benefit most.”

Vicki Burger, owner of Wind City Books in Casper, Wyoming, said that for her store, the greatest impact of Indies First on Small Business Saturday was a day of great sales.

“While we were up more in sales on Black Friday than we were on Small Business Saturday over last year, overall we were up about $700 over last year for the combined two days,” said Burger.

While Wind City did not host authors on Saturday since they usually hold their biggest author event of the year on the first Saturday in December, they do plan to take part in the Ghost giveaway and are currently working on making arrangements.

“We’ll soon be getting together with some of our high school librarians to find a way that we can reach the appropriate audience and do the giveaway,” said Burger.

Brooke Conley, director of The Collective in South Kingstown, Rhode Island, told Bookselling This Week that she felt the store should join the American Booksellers Association specifically to take part in the Ghost giveaway.

To give away its copies, the store, which opened in November 2017, partnered with the Jonnycake Center of Peace Dale, which provides basic resources to families in the local community who suffer from hunger and poverty. The center distributed the books to families who use the center, which is located directly across from the store.

“Staff at the Jonnycake Center thought the way to best reach underserved families in the community would be to do the giveaway at their Annual Holiday Pop Up Program where only the families they serve are invited,” said Conley. “We did the book giveaway as well as free wrapping.”

Letitia Pilelis-Gamez, owner of Sandpiper Books in Torrance, California, said that this year, she invited four local authors — Nyasia A. Marie, Sandra Ann Miller, Brian Clune, and Mary Jane Curry —  to come to the store, where they signed books and introduced themselves to customers.

“We had the authors teamed up in two different timeslots, starting with 12:00 p.m. to 2:00 p.m. for two and the two others from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.,” said Pilelis-Gamez. “They were independent indie authors we have had at the store before. We didn’t sell a lot of their books, but it brought a lot of people in to actually meet them and talk with them.”

Pilelis-Gamez told BTW that she couldn’t have asked for a better day. Crowds were big even though the store did not do tons of promotion, in part due to a schedule of back-to-back events. People did not necessarily come to see the authors because of who they were, she said, but because they wanted to support the store itself.

“I didn’t do any kind of sale, I didn’t do any two-for-ones — I didn’t do any of that, to be honest with you,” said Pilelis-Gamez. “We had a huge crowd and we made triple, if not more, than my average day. People came out not for the savings as much as to support a small store and bookstore. We had a lot of first-timers and a lot of return customers who purposely came out to shop with us. It was wonderful.”

With reporting by Liz Button and Emily Behnke