Lonely Planet Independent Bookstore Tour a Resounding Success

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Lonely Planet, the independent travel publisher, wrapped up its mega-tour of over 100 independent bookstores on June 3, disembarking at BookExpo America at Chicago's McCormick Place. The Lonely Planet crew spent one month aboard the Lonely Planet RV, which sported side panels advertising the "Lonely Planet 2004 Independent Bookstore Road Trip." They visited stores throughout the eastern half of the U.S. and traveled over 5,500 miles. As the tour T-shirt said: "26 States, 27 Days, 5,504 Miles, 116 Independent Bookstores."

The tour started in New York and stopped at two to six bookstores every day, winding its way through New England, the mid-Atlantic region, the South, and the Midwest. It's telling that after one month of RV living, dealing with a steady flow of minor emergencies -- alarms going off in the RV cabin; getting lost; navigating the difficult cities of New York, Boston, and D.C.; knocking off a mirror at a tollbooth -- Gary Todoroff, Lonely Planet's U.S. trade sales director, said, "I could have kept going."

Some Stops on the
Lonely Planet 2004 Independent Bookstore Road Trip
Ariel Booksellers in New Paltz, New York
The Happy Bookseller in Columbia, South Carolina
Lemuria in Jackson, Mississippi
Olsson's in Bethesda, Maryland
Politics & Prose Books & Coffee in Washington, D.C.
Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi

Todoroff developed the ambitious project to strengthen Lonely Planet's ties with independent bookstores. The objective of the tour was to meet and thank independent booksellers while bringing additional visibility to them, said Todoroff. "I feel we really did accomplish our goal. We strengthened our relationships with independent booksellers for sure. And we gave a face to Lonely Planet staff. I met a lot of people I plan on seeing again."

At each stop, Lonely Planet staff distributed the Independent Bookstore Tour posters, which listed each bookstore on the itinerary. Booksellers also got a Lonely Planet T-shirt. In addition, a representative from each store signed a commemorative T-shirt that was displayed at the Lonely Planet booth at BEA.

Todoroff said the road trip gave staff the chance to put into practice the Lonely Planet belief in the power of travel, which he explained included taking risks, leaving behind the everyday, and experiencing a culture firsthand. "We did all that," he said, speaking of his immersion in the independent bookselling world.

"Travel can be a powerful form of enrichment, and I felt we got that on this trip. We wanted to know more about independents, and we really got to know the independent bookseller community."

Meanwhile, booksellers appreciated LP's grand gesture and welcomed the travelers. "Most bookstores were wonderfully receptive to what we were doing," said Todoroff. "They were amazing hosts, and we felt really welcomed. They baked cookies for us, made a number of signs. Some brought lunch in for us and created an event, inviting customers."

At the last stop of the tour, Women & Children First in Chicago, staff were delighted that the Lonely Planet crew dropped by. "It was a terrific visit," said office manager Brenda Murphy. "We all love Lonely Planet, and we appreciate that they are very enthusiastic about independent booksellers. They were great fun and energizing. They started me thinking about travel." Murphy said she was contemplating a trip to Ireland and would certainly bring along the LP guide.

Of course, as with any grand-scale adventure, there were a few bumps in the road. "Myles," the RV, broke down, and Todoroff wrangled with AAA trying to get a tow truck that could handle it. In another incident, in Louisville, Kentucky, the crew camped out in a restaurant waiting out a tornado that the weather station reported to be only four or five miles away. "All's well that ends well," said Todoroff. "We didn't get hit by a tornado, and we got Myles running again."

The highlights, however, were almost too numerous to list, said Todoroff, who recounted a few. Some of his top stops were Books & Books in Coral Gables, Florida, where Todoroff spent some time with ABA President Mitch Kaplan. Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C. won kudos for providing lunch. Todoroff enjoyed getting the grand tour of the new expansion of Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, Vermont, from general manager Chris Morrow. Lemuria in Jackson, Mississippi, was a favorite, and Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi, inspired Todoroff to say, "We saw southern hospitality like I'd only heard about." Square Books' owner, Richard Howorth, who also happens to be the mayor of Oxford, invited LP to stay the night and even fixed breakfast in the morning.

Will there be an Independent Bookstore Tour Two, going to western states? Todoroff told BTW, "I think we're definitely going to do it. I don't know the timing. But I don't see how we could not do that. It would feel incomplete." --Karen Schechner

[Look for more photos from Lonely Planet's Independent Bookstore Tour in an upcoming edition of BTW.]