NAIBA’s Bookstore Visit Challenge Encourages New Connections

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The New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA) is challenging booksellers to visit other bookstores around the country to learn from and connect with their peers in other locales.

NAIBA’s Bookstore Visit Challenge, which began March 7 and ends on September 18, encourages store owners and staff to view their store in the greater context of bookselling; to learn how other stores operate and how they solve similar problems; and to facilitate new friendships with other booksellers.

“NAIBA appreciates that learning is often done in an informal environment. The visits to other bookstores are an invaluable experience, and we wanted to encourage more of that among our members,” said NAIBA Executive Director Eileen Dengler. “For most of our spring meetings, we host them in a bookstore for this reason. This is a great incentive to get bookstore staff to visit other bookstores.”

The idea for the Bookstore Visit Challenge first began to percolate at NAIBA when regional Simon & Schuster sales representative Tim Hepp suggested that the association reward booksellers for visiting other stores. According to Dengler, the contest idea gained steam when Mark LaFramboise, the book buyer at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C., published a newsletter article that garnered a national response. In the piece, LaFramboise highlights the usefulness of the store’s long-standing policy of sending staffers to visit stores in different cities.

Dengler said that the competition for most bookstore visits is currently narrowing down to the owners of two New Jersey stores: Donna Fell of Sparta Books in Sparta, and Rita Maggio of BookTowne in Manasquan. The winning store will receive two free guest room nights at the Doubletree Hilton in Somerset, New Jersey, for NAIBA’s Fall Conference, to be held from October 2–4.

Fell told Bookselling This Week that, even before she owned a bookstore herself, one of her favorite things to do while traveling has been to stop in and browse area bookstores.

She and her husband recently documented several bookstore visits that occurred during their 30th wedding anniversary trip to Italy, as they walked 120 miles in 10 days through the streets of Venice, Florence, Tuscany, and Rome.

“It was so fun looking around, talking to shop owners, and finding out that even though they are in Europe, they have the same concerns, hurdles, and love for reading as we do in the States,” Fell said.

Maggio of BookTowne said she definitely finds it valuable to visit other bookstores, as does her staff. At the last NAIBA conference, Booktowne staff visited Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, where a friendly manager treated them to a tour of the store. During that same trip, Maggio also went to Bethany Beach Books, located in Delaware’s Bethany Beach.

“Our meeting [at the last NAIBA conference] was held in Bethany Beach Books and that was great, talking with the staff. I loved their store and immediately saw items I wanted for BookTowne, and they have sold well here, too,” Maggio said.

Other bookstores Maggio has visited since the challenge began include The Clinton Book Shop in Clinton, New Jersey, and Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, New Jersey. The most far-flung store she has been to so far is one she discovered on a flight layover in Zurich, Switzerland, she said.

In scoring the competition, NAIBA counts one bookstore visit as one credit per bookseller. Each credit is valid toward the final total as long as proof of the visit is provided in the form of a photo and a comment, and as long as the bookseller interacts with the store’s staff.

A bookseller’s attendance at association events counts as two credits per bookseller, according to NAIBA’s rules, since both the events and the visits have the same goal — encouraging booksellers to share their ideas with one another.

Those who are interested in participating in NAIBA’s Bookstore Visit Challenge can see the full contest rules on the NAIBA website. Booksellers may send any photos for the contest to naibabooksellers@gmail.com.