Reflections on the Winter Institute

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

By Susan Richmond of Inklings Bookshop in Yakima, Washington

Salt Lake City is beautiful. The snow-covered mountains just seem to hold the city like protective hands. Everything downtown points to the LDS Temple and their grounds are impressive. We did a little walking around, but didn't get a tour. Some in our group were able to sit-in on the Thursday night rehearsal of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and they said it was very impressive.

Laury Hammel of BALLE and Jeff Milchen of AMIBA

Day One: The pre-conference seminar was on the value of Buy Local programs with numerous sessions and speakers on the subject. We were addressed by Salt Lake City's Mayor Becker who, along with his city council, is convinced of the power of restoring neighborhoods to be little self-contained towns within a city, where small businesses thrive and people know each other. Studies have shown that when this model is used, crime is less and the economy is stronger. We also heard from Laury Hammel, co-founder and co-chair of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies and author of Growing Local Value (Berrett-Koehler). He talked about how we can all work at convincing our friends, families, and customers to shift 10 percent of their purchasing from the big chains to local independent businesses, and he had statistics about how much impact that intentional decision can have on a small business. The other thing [Hammel] said that really stuck with me is that no one is blaming local independent businesses for our current economic problems. Perhaps it is time for each of us to point that out to our circle of influence. Just 10 percent!

Terry Tempest-Williams

Our luncheon speaker, Terry Tempest-Williams, author of Finding Beauty in a Broken World, in one of those breathtaking moments that won't soon be forgotten by 500 rapt booksellers, said that independent bookstores are "the visitor centers of our national parks. Without you, we would have no place to sit around those metaphorical campfires," she said. "If it wasn't for you, writers like me wouldn't have a voice." [Read Williams' full speech.]

The afternoon was filled with more great education about Buy Local programs. Later, after enjoying a fabulous meal at a local Italian cafe, we savored our visit to The King's English, one of several great independent bookstores in Salt Lake City. Betsy Burton, the store's owner, has been an avid participant in the city's Buy Local program. It was a joy to meet her and tour her wonderful store. She is also the author of The King's English: Adventures of an Independent Bookseller, which was published in 2006. Her store is smack-dab in a residential neighborhood. [Read more about the Local First conference.]

Day Two - Five: It would take pages to tell you everything we did. I spent mornings and afternoons in education sessions learning things like: the average book club reader reads 12 - 36 books per year; that there are some specific things I can do as a businesswoman to weather these tough times; that publishers can't wait to tell me about their newest books; and that small stores like ours must adapt to the new environment by having e-newsletters, websites, and blogs. Hey, hey! We're on board with that!

Each day we met dozens of great authors, including Michael Malone, Jonathan Stroud, and Jane Hamilton, and we brought advance reading copies of their books home with us. Well, we shipped them. No more "gorilla arms" from toting books through airports!

The atmosphere at the Winter Institute was electric with great ideas, and though "book people" firmly believe that books aren't going to disappear anytime soon, we must agree that the method of delivery of information is becoming more and more computer/smart phone-centric. Therefore, we will use all the means we can to tell people about books -- the good old, paper and ink, conveyors of culture -- books!

The opening reception at Sam Weller's.

My posting wouldn't be complete without telling you about Sam Weller's, another independent bookseller and a part of the city since 1929. They had a tiny open house reception for 500 of their peers on Thursday night! The walls of their three-story store were filled with pictures of the authors they have hosted over the years and it is like reading an American history book. Their Rare Book room is fascinating. They served tasty appetizers along with Polygamy Porter [ale] (fine print on the bottle: Why Have Just One?) I'm not sure how the Weller ancestors would feel about the choice of beverage, but it sure made us smile. Both Sam Weller's and The King's English are the kind of store I hope Inklings is when we are all grown up.

This originally appeared as a posting to Thinklings , the blog of Susan Richmond, owner of Inklings Bookshop in Yakima, Washington. Reprinted with permission of the author.