Booksellers around the country are reporting disparate results from the first shopping week of the Christmas season. The effects of the economic recession and the traumatic events beginning on September 11 are not consistently hurting, or helping, the nation's bookselling community. Weather conditions, ranging from snowy to summery, had a great impact on post-Thanksgiving shopping, as did a store's location. Resort areas were packed for the long weekend, while some cities were fairly quiet.
Beth Plattner, owner of Fishing With Your Mind in Walker, Minnesota, reported a great weekend. "People are shopping close to home more. I think this is going to be a socks-underwear-and-books kind of holiday." In this town of 1,000, four hours north of Minneapolis, sales were up about 20 percent over last year's, Plattner told BTW, and the average purchase was about $50: "People bought some of everything. We sold tons of kid's books, many books from the Book Sense bestseller list, and some gift certificates. We also redeemed some gift certificates. I'm encouraged if you had asked me a month ago, I couldn't have guessed."
Plattner was relieved that the blizzard, dumping about a foot of snow there, held off until Monday.
Barjon's Books in Billings, Montana, fared "better than last year," according to Barbara Shenkel, the store's owner. Shenkel, who has 25 years' experience in the book business, attributes this year's gains to her refinements to "the mix" of the 650-square-foot store. The inventory includes incense, statuary, cards, jewelry, a large children's section, and a general collection. The average sale was about $24, and a number of people purchased Harry Potter books as well as Book Sense gift certificates.
In Driggs, Idaho, Jan Borstelmann reported on the first holiday season of Leapfrog Books & Toys. Open just since October 15, Leapfrog is filling a need for good books and toys in this small town located an hour away from Idaho Falls. Owner Borstelmann is pleased with the initial response, as people seem to be settling in for a long, quiet winter.
"Customers have told me that they are buying mostly books for their kids this year," Borstelmann told BTW. "Another person said that she had made up her Christmas list and that 'I would be real happy with it.'" She noted that the Redwall series (by Brian Jacques) was selling well, along with Harry Potter and classic fantasy books: "I sold four Hobbits (J.R.R.Tolkien) this weekend, and several people said they want to buy the whole set.
Childhood's End (by Arthur C. Clarke, Ballantine) also sold." Borstelmann perceives a shift away from gentler young-adult fiction to some books that deal with today's concerns: The Plague Years by Ann Benson (Dell) and Germs: Biological Weapons and America's Secret War by Judith Miller et al. (S&S Trade) sold well.
The vacation town of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, was jammed with visitors and locals enjoying the unseasonably mild weather and the holiday festivities along the boardwalk. Penny McCaffrey, bookseller at Lambda Rising, told BTW that the store had a "great weekend." "People weren't window shopping. They were buying lots of Christmas cards and assorted books." The store, with its gay and lesbian focus, sold a number of perennial favorites: The Penis Book by Joseph Cohen (Konemann) and three parodies by Tom Connor and Jim Downey, Martha Stuart's Excruciatingly Perfect Weddings, Martha Stuart's Better Than You at Entertaining, and Is Martha Stuart Living? (HarperCollins).
The weather was also beautiful in Tavernier, Florida, said Linda Johnson, owner of Cover to Cover Books, who was clearly disappointed. "We could have used some rain," she told BTW. "We're in the [Florida] Keys. People were out on their boats, not shopping." Johnson did note that Christmas cards and some sidelines, such as picture frames, sold well. People were clearly buying for the holidays, and she sold a number of Book Sense gift certificates.
Barbara Bailey, owner of Bailey-Coy Books in Seattle, is sanguine about the past weekend sales that "were not quite as good as last year's--I'm glad that we did as much business as we did." Seattle's loss of Boeing headquarters to Chicago earlier this year has resulted in layoffs and increased uncertainty about the economy. Bailey senses that shoppers are holding back, awaiting drastic price cuts. Starting last Friday, people were in the store buying children's books, The Corrections (by Jonathan Franzen, FSG), new fiction, and Harry Potter books. "We sell more Harry Potter than anything else in the store," said Bailey. "I'm optimistic that things will be fine it won't be last year. We may be down by about 10 percent, and I'm fine with that. Look, we're lucky we're not an airline or one of those businesses," she concluded.
The Book Shop in Green Valley, Arizona, had an "excellent" post-Thanksgiving weekend, according to owner Corrine Maxwell. She said that Friday was "very comparable to last year," while Saturday was "almost double" in sales. Maxwell started her career as a bookseller in the 1970s opening five different stores in the Midwest, which, she told BTW, are all "still in operation." Upon moving to Green Valley, she saw "a decided need here for a bookstore" and opened The Book Shop in this retirement community in 1993.
Maxwell explained the store's success saying, "There are a lot of readers in our age group." She was enthusiastic about Book Sense: "We do a lot with Book Sense 76 titles. And people really like those titles." Over the weekend the store sold out of The Red Tent by Anita Diamant (Picador), a 2001 Book Sense Book of the Year, and Book Sense pick Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier (Plume).
At The Book Rack of Loveland, in Colorado, "it was a good weekend [but], on average, it was a slower weekend than most," said co-owner John Calhoun. Loveland has a population of 50,000 and is seven miles from the larger community of Fort Collins, which has a Barnes & Noble store. Calhoun didn't see a lot of gift book buying over the weekend, but noted that sales of Book Sense gift certificates have increased. He thinks that people will be more "cost conscious" during these uncertain times. The Book Rack carries used books, and Calhoun said that used bookstores tend to successfully ride out the peaks and valleys of the economy; "We're pretty optimistic .We put a lot back into the community."
Aliza Rood of Avenue Books near the university in Berkeley, California, said that the Sunday after Thanksgiving was quite busy with "double our normal sales." The Corrections sold well, as did "September 11-related titles" and books on Afghanistan. Rood said that the store's traffic seemed consistent with previous years.
At Skylight Books in Los Angles, "Friday was very good ... double our normal Friday," according to General Manager Kerry Slattery. The store just celebrated its fifth anniversary in the "bohemian, urban neighborhood" of Los Felices, between Hollywood and downtown.
Slattery said that a big rainstorm on Saturday made for a "more normal Saturday and Sunday." She said that they do sell a lot of Book Sense gift certificates, which is "a very positive thing. Maybe 90 percent get returned to our store."
Tim Morell, buyer for Skylight, said that he anticipates that Earth from Above: 365 Days by Herve Bras and Yann Arthus-Bertrand (Abrams) will "probably be a big Christmas book for us" as will The Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook by Joshua Piven and David Borgenicht (Chronicle). He told BTW that The Corrections and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (Michael Chabon, Picador) are "still selling really well," as is Jihad v. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Reshaping the World by Benjamin R. Barber (Ballantine). Morell observed that Skylight Books has "a late shopping crowd [they] don't usually shop until 10 days before Christmas."
Roberta Blanchard, owner of Fairy Godmother in Washington, D.C., said, "We are in a unique situation because of where we are." She explained that the bookstore is seven blocks from the capitol, so many people on Capitol Hill are gone over the recess; consequently "we don't usually find this a strong weekend." Blanchard said that the weekends before the Thanksgiving holiday were "spectacular," but recently the local anthrax scares have complicated life for Blanchard. Not only did Fairy Godmother not have mail delivery for several weeks but, she told BTW, "We're on the House side of Capitol Hill and much of it has been closed for weeks and weeks." However, she observed that September 11 "just added to a slowdown that started in February or March."
Fairy Godmother sells toys as well as children's books and Blanchard said, "I buy a little differently for the holidays, but not that much. Even the toys we carry are more traditional . We tend to sell a lot of nonfiction, and even more over the holidays because [customers] don't find those [books] in the chains . We always sell a lot of the old favorites." She said that The Wonderful Wizard of Oz: A Commemorative Pop-up by L. Frank Baum, illustrated Robert Sabuda (Little Simon), did very well at the store last year and seems to be very successful again this season. Olivia Saves the Circus by Ian Falconer (Atheneum) sells briskly and Blanchard noted that The New Yorker Book of Kids Cartoons by Robert Mankoff (Bloomberg) is "very popular--for adults as well as children." Blanchard described The Tin Forest by Helen Ward (Dutton) as "an unusual book [that] has sold well for us," as does The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Anne Brashares (Delacorte), for older children. Blanchard remarked that she seems to have more trouble selling the less expensive items at Fairy Godmother. She feels that her customers are more inclined to spend a higher amount on a top-quality book or toy.