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!


Deb said...

Thank you Rachel for sharing your great time at and pictures of the VABA Burlington Book Fair! - I am a VABA member and could not be there, so enjoyed reading about it very much!

Deb Barnum at Bygone Books, Burlington VT

whitedogsaloon said...

Great report, I always think that a Book Fair is a great way to get your name out - best advertising dollar even if I don't sell that much.
All the best, Alice
Argosy Books in Ottawa