New York International Gift Fair Offers Endless Sidelines

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The New York International Gift Fair, for which approximately 45,000 visitors came to the Jacob Javits Convention Center between January 31 and February 5, is the place to find out what's hot and what's not.

Any retailer who carries stationery, greeting cards, watches, pens, and all manner of personal accessories would have found almost 3,000 exhibitors happy to demonstrate what will unquestionably sell out in the coming seasons.

Stripes are in -- at least in home furnishings and decorating. They may be the new chintz. "Plodules" are in -- multifunctional seats made from 100 percent recycled Polypropylene, created by designer Karim Rashid as a feature of the show's Accent on Design. Unisex personal care items are in, particularly luxurious pampering products for body and soul. Recycled is in; conventional is out unless it's vintage, retro, or ironic. Innocence and naivete in childhood has all but disappeared replaced by edgy, sophisticated, and preternaturally mature. Youth, as always, is in, but nods to the enormous, aging baby-boomer market are all around. Irony and social commentary are hot everywhere on everything -- on coasters, eyeglass cases, tape dispensers, hand lotion, and neckties.

Robert Fader, the buyer for Posman Books at Grand Central Station in Manhattan, told BTW that going to the gift show was "a needle in a haystack kind of affair. I don't really know what I'm looking for and it's a lot of ground to cover." Posman occupies 3,000-square-feet of the monumental train station and competes for attention with vendors all around midtown Manhattan. Sidelines help distinguish stores and are very site specific, Fader said. "A store's book inventory is far more similar from store to store than are its sidelines. These gift items are giving your store an added identity. They mark you as different." Fader tries to maximize the use of space by selling items such as dried flowers that also serve to decorate the store. But books remain the store's primary raison d'etre, " I look for things that are packaged in a clean way, nothing with testers -- I don't want to go with anything that might damage the books."

For his store in suburban Pleasantville, New York, Village Bookstore co-owner Roy Solomon slogged through the Tabletop & Housewares, Floral & Garden Accessories, and Accent on Design sections finding little appropriate for the 3,000-square-foot general bookstore. With limited space for sidelines, Solomon and spouse and co-owner Yvonne Van Cort want to maintain the store's reputation for "good cards." They seek to add items, such as bookends and bookmarks, where possible. They found the most relevant items in The Museum Source section. He said, "Buying a card may bring a couple into the store, then they browse the books. We found both gift shows (the show runs twice a year), the one in August and this one, worthwhile. We don't have reps who show us a lot of this stuff. But we find them here."

Items can be found to appeal to every demographic here. Many appeal to urban dwellers only and would not fly in the South or Midwest. Some highlights, directed at a range of markets, are recounted below.

Parasite Pals Pencil Toppers are one of many items offered in a new collection from Accoutrements.

Ostensibly for children is the new Parasite Pals Collection from Accoutrements, home of the Librarian Action Figure. (For a related story, click here.) Although the line seems very typical on the surface -- colorful pencil cases, erasers, key chains, and tote bags -- the similarity to any other kiddie products is only skin deep. Parasite Pals are closely attached to Holly Hostess (pictured at right), a round-faced tyke with a bow in her hair. Also in her hair, on her eye lashes, in her bed, and intestinal tract are Dig Dig the head louse, Blinky the eyelash mite, ZZEEZZ the bed bug, and Tickles the tapeworm. The revolting nature of the cute critters might be over the heads of the Hello Kitty demographic, but not tweens, teens, college kids, and a few odd adults. Visit

Language Littles Dolls adorn
these Mini Talking Totes
and speak different languages when pressed.

Doll buyers who would like to provide more enlightening play for little ones can turn to the classics. Say "Hello" or "Yasou" to Greek Alexa, the newest addition to Language Littles, a collection of dolls and accessories that incorporate foreign languages. Alexa, dressed as a gymnast, makes her debut in time for the 2004 Summer Olympics, to be held in Athens. Plush dolls in the collection already "speak" a number of phrases in a foreign language followed by the English equivalent. Different dolls also speak French, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, German, Russian, and Spanish. Available in June 2004 are talking Language Littles journals with vocabularies of their own. Visit

Junk Food for the Skin, from Main Street Sonoma, hand lotion available in scents such as root beer float and sugar cookie, provides plenty of G-rated fun for the school-bus set. But the full range of Main Street's collection of witty hand soaps, bath products, lip balms, body detergents, magnets, and more might vex some customers in family bookstores. There is something for everyone. Visit

Ephemera -- producers of buttons, magnets, and stickers -- offers retailers the options of All Bestsellers, Extra Rude, Slightly Rude, and Clean Only when ordering assortments. The special 2004 Election Year Catalog includes some bookseller favorites such as "Oh Well -- I Wasn't Using My Civil Liberties Anyhow" and "If we refund your money, give you a replacement for free & shoot the manager, then will you be satisfied?" Visit

The Unemployed Philosophers Guild, known to many booksellers for its line of "Metaphysically strong" tins of peppermints including EnlightenMints and AtoneMints, offers a host of literature-inspired products. Bookseller Roy Solomon told BTW that he carries the mints and was intrigued by many of the Guild's other items. The catalog includes Great Writer finger puppets, little dolls, mugs, and magnets; Freudian slippers; silk scarves designed with the poetry of Emily Dickinson or Shakespeare; and Dorothy Parker martini glasses. Visit

"I followed the food pyramid. Now I'm shaped like it!" --
A sample of new cards by Broad Appeal.

Bottman Designs, known for a wide range of artful cards, magnets, and resin figures, has brought out its contribution of witty, more biting products aimed at women of a certain age -- new are Cards by Broad Appeal and a line of Real People magnetic dress-ups, figurines, and Christmas ornaments are labeled -- Fashion the Crowd Can Understand. Visit

For cutting edge, streamlined small office and travel items, Ruda Overseas showed its new metallic silver fiber optic pens, digital clocks and watches, and elegant magnetic games. Contact

Zelco Industries continues to produce items of interest to readers: new is the lightweight, foldable, storable Slim Bookstand, inspired by the art of Origami, joining The Bookmate Book Stand to make reading more comfortable. Visit

Not hi-tech but environmentally correct is Lulu Jacobs, the creator of the two-year-old company Brite Sprite. She offers a small line of clever products including drinking glasses in three sizes with the "Hello My Name Is" label, reusable with included marker. Guests need only use one glass per gathering. Distributed by Marty Wasserman/Associates,

Perfect for tourists, both in New York and elsewhere, is the wide Forest Saver line of stationery items. Founded by Matthew Magnozzi, the line uses outdated maps as the basis for mousepads, note pads, journals, clipboards, and coasters. The company holds official licenses from the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) for their respective subway maps. The maps are continually updated and Forest Saver collects the unfolded sheets from the printer. Forest Saver also offers items such as envelopes made of actual topographical maps, also outdated. Custom cards and promotional items are also available. Visit

A sample handmade book plate from Saturn Press.

For Posman, the subway-themed items are an obvious choice for the Grand Central site. Books about New York are often too heavy or costly for many tourists, said Fader. "We sell a lot of postcards."

Those who appreciate the art and craft of handmade cards, stationery, and albums can order from Saturn Press -- products are individually printed with moveable type. The illustrations on the cards celebrate the handiwork of the past. Literary quotes, dogs, holiday themes, and many nostalgic prints adorn the cards. Contact Saturn Press at (207) 526-4000.

Fader finds that no amount of holiday-themed products is too much. He stocks plenty of holiday items whenever possible. "I purchased chocolates at the show -- they come well packaged with a gift tag already on them for Mother's Day," he explained. "Right now everything in the store is pink and heart-shaped. Things that float in your bath, things you eat, things you throw, things that flash and burn -- just so long as they are pink and heart-shaped." --Nomi Schwartz