With just over a week to go until Christmas, booksellers from around the country have reported that holiday shopping has begun in earnest, with more shoppers flocking to bookstores daily.
"It's escalated every day," said Sarah Bagby, owner of Watermark Books in Wichita, Kan. Watermark has run a special, daily promotion every day since December 1 and will continue to do so through Christmas. Some of the promotions have worked better than others; the store's Friday the 13th promotion (anyone "brave enough" to come out and shop got a 25% discount) was particularly successful. So far, Watermark is on pace with last season, but Bagby believes she'll pull ahead. "I think it's going to get busier and busier. With Thanksgiving being so late, people said they were just not ready."
Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, Philipp Meyer's The Son, Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries and The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion have all sold extremely well for Bagby. Among end-of-the-year surprises are The Kid: The Immortal Life of Ted Williams by Ben Bradlee Jr. and The Lemonade Cookbook: Southern California Comfort Food from L.A.'s Favorite Modern Cafeteria. Bagby can't keep the cookbook in stock: "It has recipes for amazing salads and pasta. We did a sample of the fingerling potato salad from the book, and everyone who took a bite bought a book."
Tom Lowenburg, the co-owner of Octavia Books in New Orleans, La., agreed that the season had not yet reached its peak. "Things are still building. We've been busy, but we're about to get much busier."
Several books pertaining to New Orleans, including Roll with It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans by Matt Sakakeeny, Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink and What the Sleepy Animals Do at the Audubon Zoo by Grace Millsaps, John Clark IV, Ryan Murphy and Alyson Kilday have done very well for Octavia Books. Rich Cohen's MONSTERS: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football has been surprisingly popular.
"Every year has its own dynamic, depending on when Thanksgiving is or what day Christmas falls on," said Lowenburg, discussing what effect the condensed shopping season may have had on retailers. "This year, with early Hanukkah and a late Thanksgiving, that's just a different dynamic. For national retailers, Thanksgiving and Black Friday are the beginning of the holidays. I don't think that's true for us. For us it's just a matter of when people start to think about buying gifts, and books are the best first- and last-minute gifts."
Anne Holman, co-owner of the King's English Bookshop in Salt Lake City, Utah, has seen Small Business Saturday and Utah's shop local movement grow steadily over the last few years. On Small Business Saturday, the store hosted the "World's Strongest Librarian"--6'6" Josh Hanagarne. The Indies First celebration was a rousing success.
"Utah's local-first movement is one of the most robust in the country," explained Holman. Each year, the King's English participates in a week-long shop local promotion. For the past few years the store has offered 15% off for an entire week, and this year was no exception. "We feel that that's a nod to shoppers, telling them 'we know you're shopping for discounts, but we're really glad you're shopping with us.' So we do that for a whole week; we give up a little, but we feel like we get a lot more in return."
Books by Utah writers, including fantasy author Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn, The Way of Kings) and YA authors Brandon Mull (Spirit Animals) and Peggy Eddleman (Sky Jumpers) have done well. The Goldfinch has also sold robustly, along with The Rosie Project and Bill Bryson's One Summer: America 1927.
The biggest surprise is S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. "It's been crazy," said Holman. "When people open the sample copy, they just go crazy for it."
For Bill Reilly and Mindy Ostrow, owners of the river's end bookstore in Oswego, N.Y., December is "clicking along at a good pace," Reilly said. Across the board, sales are going very well. The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt and Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs have moved briskly. Small Business Saturday went very well, and the store is participating in Oswego's own shop local movements.
"We've been doing a lot to raise the level of awareness for shopping local," said Reilly. "It's not just about books; we're going to all of our favorite shops downtown and making sure to spread a little green around in their stores. It's so important to walk the walk. We're in this together."
Margot Sage-EL, the owner of Watchung Booksellers in Montclair, N.J., has had a "phenomenal" holiday season so far, she said. Between Hanukkah's early start and several big, annual school events getting moved to November, things have been rolling for weeks. In addition to Indies First and Small Business Saturday, Watchung Booksellers held "Festivus Friday" on the day after Thanksgiving. A code word was sent to everyone on the store's e-mail list, and shoppers who said the code word that day received 20% off their purchase. The code word was "bagel."
With so much of her holiday business shifted to November, Sage-EL doesn't have huge expectations for this December, although things are going strong. But even if December turns out to be lower than usual, Sage-EL said that the store will still be ahead of last year. She explained: "I really can't emphasize how huge our November was." --Alex Mutter