Still More Notes From the Sidelines

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From highbrow literary T-shirts to colorful sketchpads, a judicious selection of non-book items can highlight a bookstore's unique style and make an important contribution to its bottom line. Here's a look at a few of the latest conversation starters and bestsellers at several bookstores around the country.

At Brooklyn, New York's BookCourt, general manager and events coordinator Zack Zook said customers have been "enthusiastic" about a new line of baseball jersey-style literary T-shirts from Novel-T. The company's literary lineup includes nine authors or characters from classic works -- Whitman, Poe, Ahab, Dick (Moby), Bartleby, Prynne, Thoreau, Sawyer, and Finn. Names are printed across the back of the jersey and a graphic is on the front, where a team logo would usually appear. Grass for Whitman, for example, and an "A" for Prynne. The shirts have proven popular among staff ("A staff member bought six," said Zook) and have served as conversation starters with customers.

Brooklyn-based Novel-T has even caught the attention of the New York Times' blog Paper Cuts and the New York Post, which called the T-shirts a "high-brow home-run." The company is helping to "ensure that there will always be new names to add to the Novel-T line-up" by donating a dollar from the sale of each shirt to Dave Eggers' 826NYC project, which helps kids develop their writing skills.

For kids, Mudpuppy offers a retro line of magnetic dress-up dolls that, like the bestselling game Bananagrams, are compact and travel well. The ballerina and traveler dolls are top sellers. "Grandparents like them a lot," said Jessica Esperanza of Red Fox Bookstore in Glens Falls, New York.

Also selling at Red Fox are eeBoo's Technicolor carnival and floral-themed sketch pads.

At Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston, Valerie Koehler's latest top-selling plush is Lubies. "Cute faces and just the right price to pair with a board book or picture book," she said. "I, of course, love the giraffe, but others favor the cardinal or the kitty."

Koehler displays Lubies in a basket as well as placing them right next to appropriate books. For example, she said, "You can sell Sylvie [Random House Books for Young Readers] by Jennifer Sattler with a Lubie flamingo," and, she noted, they are baby-safe.

Magnets and buttons are, of course, perennial cash-wrap bestsellers. "People just love them -- the funnier the better," said Susan Richmond of Inklings Bookshop in Yakima, Washington. "Recently, we used a sentiment from one of them as a 'tagline' in our newsletter -- 'Our sales staff is heavily medicated for your shopping convenience.'" Seltzer, which also sells eco-friendly cards, is a good source, said Richmond.

And for Deb Hunter of Chicklet Books in Princeton, New Jersey, Lily Pulitzer art sets and stationery from Lifeguard Press "do extremely well because it suits the store style." With its pink and green gingham, polka dots, and mod-ish florals, the line is "feminine, fun, and funky like we are," said Hunter. --Karen Schechner