Spotlight on ABA Board Candidate Sarah Bagby

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BTW's series of 2010 board candidate profiles starts this week with first-time director candidate Sarah Bagby of Watermark Books in Wichita, Kansas. Ballots for the 2010 ABA Board of Directors elections, e-mailed to ABA main store members on Monday, March 22, must be submitted electronically by midnight on April 26.

Kansas native Sarah Bagby started her bookselling career with a part-time job in the late 1970s at the then new Watermark Books in Wichita, Kansas. "When I speak to groups, I always say that the reason I have worked in a bookstore most of my working life is because in my childhood home (in Wichita) books were more important than furniture," said Bagby. "Over the next 30 years, I saw the store through two moves and the addition of a made-from-scratch café, as well as meeting room and event space." She also took over 90 percent ownership of the store.

After Bagby became Watermark's manager in the early '80s, she and store founder Bruce Jacobs worked out an arrangement through which she earned a controlling ownership over time. Jacobs remains involved in the business, but now has a very small stake.

Watermark Books today looks very different from the original store, which opened in 1977 in an historic brick building. The now 5,000-square-foot bookstore and café anchors Lincoln Heights Village, a 60-year-old neighborhood strip mall.

Bagby said that staff has "intentionally created a synergy between the café and the bookstore." The café menu changes each month to feature recipes from a different cookbook. Watermark's meeting room space also brings dozens of customers into the store every day. "Like other community bookstores, we host numerous book clubs, and have great neighborhood support," she said. Bagby credited Watermark's "incredible staff of professional booksellers" for the store's success.

Watermark Books works closely with neighboring merchants and local business owners. Bagby is involved with the Douglas Design District in Wichita, a consortium of local businesses advocating for urban planning and beautification of the area. "The community support we get from the neighborhood and surrounding businesses is key to our vitality," said Bagby. "Wichita is small enough to know everyone, but large enough to have to work the network constantly. We are supportive of local schools, literacy organizations, and libraries. Community partners range from the neighborhood garden committee to the local chapter of the American Heart Association."

As an ABA board member, Bagby would like to focus on "aligning all member resources to secure a model for bookselling that is culturally and commercially viable." 

Other areas of particular interest are the IndieBound program and ABA's ongoing efforts to stay tech-current. "The IndieBound revolution is very exciting and cutting edge for all of our communities, and the professional marketing tools that have been developed are amazing," she said. "Technology issues are another area that I find of great interest, and I look forward to learning more about integrating the platforms for electronic media into today's independent bookstores."

Bagby added that she is "honored to have been nominated to the board and looks forward to being of service to the bookselling community at large."--Karen Schechner