Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Bookselling at the Burlington Book Fair

Here's a helpful travel tip. When traveling in the pre-dawn hours to a destination you are unfamiliar with in a vehicle you are unsure of, it's helpful to avoid spooky mountain roads where your cellphone doesn't get reception. I foolishly set off at 4 am  from Saratoga County, New York to exhibit my wares at the Vermont Book and Ephemera Fair in Burlington, hoping to arrive early for the setup. The plan was to arrange my book booth and then stroll around leisurely with a strong cup of coffee to see what my colleagues were selling before the official opening at 10 am.

While I spent a lot of time rehashing my book fair packing list (I remembered my cash this time, unless last November's Albany Book Fair, when I had to beg for singles from another bookseller) and picking out the books I wanted to bring to Burlington, I was less diligent about researching my driving route and ended up taking Route 9N through the Adirondacks to Ticonderoga, where I collapsed into a fast food restaurant after almost two hours of hairpin turns, a couple of deer in the headlights, 20-30 mph driving through villages through rain and fog and having my check engine light come on after grinding up a particularly steep incline. The cheery counter lady assured me that Burlington was only another hour and a half away, which proved to be the case and I made it in plenty of time to be set up.

I was greeted at the door by these three lovely women, who steered me to my booth and a bountiful breakfast setup, where a restorative few cups of strong coffee and some fresh pineapple got me back in business.

That's Donna Howard on the left, of the Eloquent Page  in nearby St. Albans, who was the main Book Fair organizer and had boxes full of everything we exhibitors needed awaiting us at our booths, so I could just waltz in and get cracking. She also manned a lovely book booth herself, studded with antique children's books and interesting history and railroad titles. 

I got to chat a bit with Barbara Harding of Otter Creek Used Books in Middlebury, VT as she was setting up. She had a gorgeous selection of P.G. Wodehouse novels, artfully arranged on light blue shelves, and indulged me with little light conversation about the author's hilarious character names, like Chuffy and Stilton Cheesewright. I will definitely have to plan a Vermont bookhunting trip in the near future and visit her shop, a self-described  "community book store experience".

A couple of the antiques dealers had great displays. Carwin's Antiques of Morrisville, VT had both Dr. Seuss and a parade of glass paperweights beckoning from one booth,

while Jean Tudhope of Backdoor Antiques in East Middlebury, VT had great posters and ephemera to lure in shoppers. I most coveted her tray table, however, and will have to scout one up and bring it to my next Book Fair instead of juggling my cash box, receipts and pens in my lap when a customer checks out.

Caffeine in hand, it was time now to pop up my own book display. I had a half booth and had brought along another small table to pop up in the middle of the horseshoe area I shared with the delightful artist and bookbinder Carol Ceraldi, of  Graham Hill Bindery in Craftsbury, VT. Carol lugged in a huge book press, clamps, binding supplies, rolls of leather and book cloth, (and a cello to schlep to orchestra practice after the Fair) and had a computer slide show on hand to display examples of her interesting bindings. She was busy throughout the Fair, chatting with attendees, doing various book repairs and making beautifully folded origami boxes out of her hand decorated pastepapers. Visit her website to see examples of her work on various book restorations, bindings and book enclosures.

Here's my setup. I only brought 7 boxes of books with me, rather than the 12 or so I've brought to other book fairs, since I thought that facing out more books (and more colorful books) would bring in just as many sales.

This proved to be true, though the bestsellers were overwhelmingly books on Vermont history, folklore and books by Vermont authors. I should have brought my entire New England section and only a smattering of other subjects. (Actually, my "best seller" was the bowl of peppermint Life Savers on my front table.)

I had the good fortune to be near two other gracious and interesting booksellers, Sandy Lincoln of Sandy's Books and Bakery in Rochester, VT and John Hess of Catamount Books in Arlington, VT. I thought I had a shot of Sandy reading among her stacks of interesting books, (from R. Crumb art books to Sherlock Holmes), but none turned up later in my camera, so I will have illustrate with words how great it was to chat with Sandy and her husband about the book biz, global politics, and her unusual selection of titles. Sandy specializes in books about sustainable living, renewable energy, wilderness living, agriculture and cooking and her bookstore incorporates a garden and bakery/espresso sales. Another destination for my Vermont bookhunting tour!

John and his wife manned the Catamount Books booth, which was stuffed with gorgeous antiquarian volumes. I spied several hard-to-find Cherry Ames nursing novels for a customer of mine, and saw lots of other unusual books in great condition. Arlington is not too far over the border from Schuylerville, so as we were chatting, I offhandedly asked if he knew anyone from his hometown who had been painted by Norman Rockwell. John immediately replied that his grandfather was the model for Norman Rockwell's iconic painting, "Freedom of Speech" .Note a resemblance?

Overall, I had a great time at the Burlington Book Fair. I made back my expenses, handed out a ton of bookmarks and brochures, made some new bookseller friends, and talked to many bibliophiles about what kinds of books they read  and collected.

As a bonus, my car didn't break down on my alternate route home and I got home just before dark to a warm welcome from the family and pets, with a cold glass of Gewurztraminer to boot!  A great day!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Burlington and Books

Rachel will be exhibiting some of our bookwares at the Vermont Spring Book and Ephemera Fair in beautiful Burlington, Vermont this Sunday, March 25th from 10 am to 4 pm. The Book Fair is being held at the Sheraton Hotel located at 870 Williston Road and admission is $4.

Some of the books and paper items we will be bringing including Vermont history and folklore, some new-to-us titles in art, music, how-to, country living, popular culture and an assortment of postcards and other ephemera. There are some interesting new acquisitions in poetry, Chinese antiquities and Americana that will also be on our table.

Dan and I visited the Burlington Book Fair a couple of years back and had a nice time chatting with Donna Howard of the Eloquent Page, who organizes the Fair and has an open shop in nearby St. Albans, Vermont. That's Donna, neatly turned out in her Edward Gorey T-shirt in the photo above. We bought a nice stack of books and blogged about our visit at the Book Trout at this post.

Hope to see you at the Fair. I'll be back with a report on how things go and on  interesting bookspotting and people watching.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Guerrilla Marketing for Dummy Heads

Ever the intrepid scrounger, husband Dan has come up with our most eye-catching street sign yet. We always find interesting stuff thrown out in the alley behind our shop and they often end up repurposed in our shop as shelf adornments or book ends, but I think Dan has outdone himself with his mobile street sign advertising our March-long Spring Cleaning Sale:

A rusty supermarket cart now sports a shelf of mounted beauty school mannequin heads (stamped with the names Debra, Sam (like our store cat!) and Deluxe Debra), festively adorned for St. Patrick's Day and expertly bungee-corded to the lamp post at the vacant lot at the main intersection of our fair village of Schuylerville. Dan or I take the Debras in each night for fear that they may be kidnapped by drunken patrons of the nearby sports bar and this certainly earns us some rubbernecking from passing motorists. It was a bit surreal the other day to see a passing car of nuns in full habit do some synchronized gawking at my lovely trio as I was taking them on their morning stroll.

Judging from the number of remarks we're getting in the shop, this marketing madness is working well. I have had several local first-time customers tell me that the Heads got them inside our doors despite the fact that we've been around for 15 years and have book carts, flags and stacks of books on our sidewalk whenever weather permits. 

We're now planning our Easter makeover for the Debras, and may even continue this street side show longer if it continues to draw in new customers. Certainly, a Bastille Day tableau could be interesting. And the Debras are waterproof.

In a village that sports three storefront leg lamps a la A Christmas Story, another vacant lot adorned with a selection of painted retro bicycles, and a hybrid horse/cow sculpture pastured into a landing pad of grass on the sidewalk next to our shop each spring, we think the Debras blend right in.

Friday, March 2, 2012

A Visit to Atlanta Vintage Books

I was let out of our own bookstore for a short trip to Atlanta to check out Emory College. The young' un has been dreaming of an education at this fine academic institution, despite my entreaties that it is way too far away, out of our budget, too much of a change from our hobbity rural life, etc. She insists that this is her dream college, so off we went for a four-day trip to investigate.

After a three-flight extravaganza that began at 3 am, followed by a white-knuckle rental car drive up I-85 during rush hour, in which I was consistently in the wrong lane, we flopped at our hotel for a quick break. The plan was to freshen up, drive over to Emory to scope out how to get to our scheduled tour the next morning, shop quickly at a used bookstore and then seek out some delicious Southern barbeque.

I had thought that Emory was located in a northern suburb of Atlanta, but it's really part of the urban area, replete with lots of traffic congestion, so our introduction to Emory was not as auspicious as it could have been. We sat in a big traffic jam past the Center for Disease Control and Emory Hospital and saw people walk, push strollers, and limp past with three-pronged canes overtaking us in our rental car. We finally inched past our intended target, the Admissions Building, and then headed out of the gridlock up Clairmont Avenue to catch the last half-hour at Atlanta Vintage Books.

What a treat!  We pulled up to the curb and saw a young man feeding and petting a covey of long-haired cats on the sidewalk. He welcomed us and when I told him we were looking forward to meeting one of our bookstore colleagues, whisked us into the shop and introduced us to more cats and Bob Roarty and Jan Bolgla, the husband and wife owners.

Jan was busy on the phone with customers during our visit, but Bob was so kind and generous with his time, leading us both through the labyrinth of wonderful book rooms, each more interesting than the next. I love that different subjects get their own rooms and we had a grand time talking shop, examining some of the gems in his rare books section (a signed Finnegan's Wake! a signed Gone with the Wind! Tasha Tudors in jackets!). Every once in a while, his delightfully exuberant employee Mallory would whoop or snort from her corner cubby to punctuate our discussion, and that made me laugh every time.

I wish I had more time to browse, but with hungry teen in tow and mindful of the 7 pm closing time (which we exceeded by far) my perusal was limited to the American history section. I am always looking to replenish our colonial history and Revolutionary War shelves, as well as our upstate New York history selections, so I did leave with an armload of books that filled up my airline suitcase to its 50 lb. limit.

Bob probably would have kept the lights on all night for us, so generous was he with his time and kindness, but after providing us with a short linguistics lesson to help us in our travels ("all y'all" is the plural of "y'all", "the great Unpleasantness" refers the Civil War) and some detailed instructions to get us to Fat Matt's Rib Shack for dinner, we reluctantly left. Bob also practically adopted my daughter into the family should she end up at Emory, so I am very grateful to everyone at Atlanta Vintage Books. Talk about the fabled Southern hospitality!