The holiday season is starting off merry and bright at Quail Ridge Books & Music in Raleigh, N.C.: sales for the first part of December are up 15% over last year. "This is the first time in three years that we have felt things are improving," said general manager Sarah Goddin. "It's a nice change."
Former customers at several now-closed Borders stores in the area are shopping at Quail Ridge, enticed in part by a special offer. Those who brought in their Borders rewards cards were given a free one-year membership in the Readers' Club ($15 per year per household). In addition, "there are a lot more people buying into the idea of shop local first and thinking about it in terms of making their buying decisions," noted Goddin.
Quail Ridge customers' local interest extends not just to where they're shopping but to what they're purchasing. The store's current #1 seller is North Carolina native Charles Frazier's Nightwoods, a novel set in the Appalachian Mountains. The tale is one of the titles featured in a "North Carolina New and Noteworthy" display, along with other popular selections like We Remember: Stories by North Carolina Veterans of World War II edited by Russ Reynolds and The Classic: How Everett Case and His Tournament Brought Big-Time Basketball to the South by Bethany Bradsher.
A surprise hit has been Duke University professor Cathy N. Davidson's Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. Local news anchor Bill Leslie is making music for fans of novelist Jan Karon's Mitford series. The singer and songwriter's new CD is A Midnight Clear: Christmas in Mitford, a 16-song album inspired by Karon's stories, which take place in a fictional North Carolina town. The author worked with Leslie on the project, designing the album cover and recommending the title.
Jigsaw puzzles featuring images by North Carolina artists are some of the impulse items attracting shoppers' notice. This time of year, the checkout area at Quail Ridge is set up so that customers wait in a single line for the next available register. Arranged on shelves where the queue forms are "Great Last-Minute Gifts," among them the game Bananagrams, bookends, Book Darts, reading lights and the bestselling sideline: 3D bookmarks from Emotion Gallery, which are placed at the checkout counter.
Top titles sans Carolina connections are Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson and Then Again by Diane Keaton. One on One: Behind the Scenes with the Greats in the Game by John Feinstein is benefitting from its inclusion on a list of "Ten Hot New Books" selected by Goddin and store owner Nancy Olson; each one is 30% off for everyone, not just Readers' Club members.
Some of Goddin's favorite hand sells this season are Michael Sims's The Story of Charlotte's Web: E.B. White's Eccentric Life in Nature and the Birth of an American Classic, a "fabulous" biography; the story collection Accidental Birds of the Carolinas by Marjorie Hudson, "an author who will be well known one day"; and The Call by Yannick Murphy, a "heartwarming but not sappy" novel told through the medical log entries of a veterinarian in rural New England. Two of Olson's picks are the novels Ready Player One by Ernest Cline and Chango's Beads and Two-Tone Shoes by William Kennedy.
For the second year, Quail Ridge is offering free shipping for online orders over $20 through December 31. The promotion "has been going gangbusters," said Goddin. "We're also doing better getting the word out." If customers call to inquire about a title that isn't on the shelves, staffers direct them to the website and mention the special. "Once people have gone through the registration process, they find out how easy it is to order online and are likely to come back," Goddin said.
A long-running tradition at Quail Ridge is a Hanukkah concert performed by a local band, Mishpacha, which has been performing at the store for 15 years and will be there this Saturday afternoon. A more recent tradition began unintentionally. Champagne left over from an event was uncorked and served to those waiting in line to pay for their purchases. It was a hit with Quail Ridge clientele, and raising spirits with glasses of bubbly (regular and non-alcoholic) is now a regular part of the store's holiday festivities. --Shannon McKenna Schmidt