A gulf hurricane’s leading edge was the only unwelcome guest at the New England Booksellers Association’s annual meeting and trade show, which blew into Providence, Rhode Island on September 27. But the winds and heavy rains were blamed for the thinner stream of booksellers on the floor. Perhaps because of weather (or because of flat sales), some stores stayed home or brought fewer staff. It was a shame, because those on hand regarded the programs as among the best ever. “We appreciate the creative ideas NEBA stores use to capture market share in the world of ever-increasing conglomeratization,” said Sheri Strickland, Sales Manager for NEBA Publisher of the Year, the University Press of New England. “We appreciate the work of these stores with smaller presses like UPNE to represent a broader range of books to sell — which alone will help both the stores and us to survive.”
In any case, survival seemed well within reach for attendees such as Stan Hynds, Senior Buyer at Northshire Books, who noted that “sales are up slightly so far this year, thanks to a better than expected August. There seems to be a lot of good fiction this fall and for the holidays, which makes the end of the year look promising.” Also, “with BEA so early this year,” said Hynds, “many fall books that were not ready for display then are available for perusal in Providence.” Hynds happened to be eagerly awaiting the “Jump Starting Your Business” session, in which Jeffrey Stamp, co-author with Doug Hall of Measurably Smarter, led booksellers through ten ideas developed by a group of independent booksellers from around the country. In another session, Jenny Lawton, the new owner of famed Greenwich store Just Books (and the recently opened Just Books II) joined a Sunday panel on succession issues. “We need to bring more young people into the business, so owners can have someone to whom they can hand their business,” said Lawton.
The immensely popular Nanci McCrackin received the Gilman Award for being this year’s “Outstanding New England Sales Representative,” and Judy Blume stopped by to speak out against post-9/11 censorship in a Saturday session. NEBA reported that the Cromwell School District in Connecticut is facing a petition drive to remove Elizabeth Speare’s The Witch of Blackbird Pond and Katherine Paterson’s Bridge to Terabithia from the district (two residents believe the books promote witchcraft). Meanwhile, the panel “Sex and Drugs and Children’s Books” nicely complemented talk of censorship. “How do you sell a book to a teenager without scaring their parents away?” asked Alison Morris, of Wellesley Booksmith.
The New England Book Awards were presented Sunday, and went to Chris Bohjalian, Leonard Everett Fisher, and Howard Zinn. Back on the exhibit floor, the most popular new product appeared to be the LightWedge, introduced by Jamey Bennett, best known for his Book Wire role. But by all accounts the award for in-booth author appearances went to Kensington’s Holly Chamberlin, feverishly signing Living Single while regaling visitors with her struggle to look like her jacket photo.
We thank Chris Kerr of Parson Weems for this report.