A Winter Institute Destination

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Participants in this January's Winter Institute in Louisville, Kentucky, who want to visit one of the area's local independent bookstores need only cross the Ohio River to find Destinations Booksellers in New Albany, Indiana. Though it's in a neighboring state, the store is 10 minutes from the Wi3 hotel, and that's "if the traffic is really bad," said Destinations' co-owner Randy Smith.

After spending 15 years mulling over the idea of launching his own bookstore, in November 2004 Smith and his wife, Ann Baumgartle, made what he called a "thin-slice" decision to move to Indiana, buy a building, and open a bookstore all in the same year. Smith's previous experience had been as online editor.

Destinations Booksellers is housed in a one-story brick building with about 2,500-square-feet of selling space in New Albany's ArtWalk district, a conglomeration of historic sites, museums, and galleries. The city, one of the oldest in the Northwest Territories, was the site of the publication of the first book west of the Alleghenies.

Although Smith originally wanted to open a travel bookstore selling globes, maps, and travel books (thus the name Destinations), he ultimately decided to open as a general bookstore with an emphasis on local history, general nonfiction titles, historical preservation, sociology, and politics, as well as travel. Some of the inventory, Smith said, also reflects his own interest in using renewable energy and creating a sustainable economy.

The bookstore signed on to the Book Sense gift card program when it was first launched. "It proved to be incredibly popular," Smith noted. "And we don't have to say no when people ask if we have a gift card."

The business also includes a micro publishing, POD operation, Flood Crest Press, which publishes a line of books and offers professional publishing services to authors and organizations. "It's a nice bottom line feeder," said Smith. "The name is a spin off of the greatest natural disaster in the area, the Great Flood. The high water mark was right here."

Smith, Baumgartle, and a staff member will be attending the Winter Institute. "Among the three of us we picked out the sessions that we'll be attending. We'll divide sessions on the handselling, marketing, and inventory management."

Smith had some enthusiastic restaurant recommendations for visiting booksellers. "People absolutely cannot miss La Rosita's Mexican Grill in New Albany.... And they can follow up with the New Albanian Brewing Company, voted the sixth-best brew pub in the world [by RateBeer.com]." Smith also added that the area was the launching point of the Lewis and Clark expedition, who met at nearby Ohio Falls, and there were many historical sites to visit.

Destinations recently finished its third year in business, but skipped a celebration party. "When we hit year five, we'll have a blow out," Smith said. "That's when we'll make a big deal.... Our colleagues at Carmichael's [Bookstore in Louisville, Kentucky] are 29 years old and still plugging."

Smith said that Carmichael's and Denver's Tattered Cover were his role models, but he was so impressed with both bookstores' operations, it almost kept him from launching one himself. "In fact, for 15 years I thought I couldn't own a bookstore because I couldn't open one like Tattered Cover," Smith explained. "But now I say, don't let a great bookstore prevent you from opening one of your own." --Karen Schechner