With only three days to go until Christmas Day, independent booksellers around the country are nearing the end of the frantic holiday shopping season--and most report selling a range of titles plus some strong and unusual sidelines, few problems obtaining hot sellers, and overall, business is meeting or beyond expectations.
Casey Coonerty Protti, the owner of Bookshop Santa Cruz in Santa Cruz, Calif., said that the holiday rush is indeed on, with the store full of customers and four or five registers regularly in full swing. And a busy season got even busier, she said, on the Saturday before Christmas. Among the titles that are flying out the door are Elena Ferrante's My Brilliant Friend, Helen Macdonald's H Is for Hawk, Lily King's Euphoria, Jonathan Franzen's Purity and The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery. For children's books, the Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone Illustrated Edition is going fast. Two nonfiction titles with "obvious California appeal," Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan and Jerry on Jerry: The Unpublished Jerry Garcia Interviews by Dennis McNally and Trixie Garcia, are proving quite popular as well.
Among nonbook items, Bookshop Santa Cruz is still "riding the wave of sock sales." Adult coloring books remain popular, and Modern Moose Kids Clocks have sold out almost as soon as they go on the shelves. Compared to last year, Protti said, her toy department's sales are up 50%, and overall, her store is up 5% in December and still climbing.
"Thanksgiving weekend was fairly slow for us, so I was a little worried, but December has proven that to be a blip in the long-term pattern of growth we've seen over the last few years," she continued. "What people are buying is really broad this year."
Mitchell Kaplan, owner of Books & Books, with stores in South Florida, the Cayman Islands and Southampton Beach, N.Y., shared a similar observation, noting that "again this year, no one title is dominating, which is always good for stores like ours, where a broad selection is our strength."
In addition to titles that are selling well nationally, like Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and The Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsberg by Irin Carmon and Shana Knizhnik, books by local authors and with a local focus are moving well. Edwidge Danticat's Untwine and Mama's Nightingale: A Story of Immigration and Separation are both selling, as are George Merrick, Son of the South Wind: Visionary Creator of Coral Gables by Arva Moore Parks and Unseen Cuba by Marius Jovaisa.
During the holiday season, Kaplan added, Books & Books' "commitment to a full selection of books about art, architecture, photography and design really pays off." They sell very well as gift items, and "price doesn't seem to be an object." So far, Kaplan's stores are slightly up compared to last year's holiday season, and he noticed an uptick in online sales throughout 2015.
For Katie Capaldi, the owner of Between the Covers in Harbor Springs, Mich., the holiday season began on November 15, when the Harbor Springs downtown hosted its annual Ladies' Night Out. Since then, the store has kept up a "pretty breakneck pace" through Thanksgiving and up to Christmas, with sales "significantly up" since last year.
Capaldi's bestselling book of the season has been Norwegian Wood: Chopping, Stacking and Drying Wood the Scandinavian Way by Lars Mytting. Between the Covers cross-promoted the book with a local outdoor store that sells handcrafted and imported axes, and the book took off. Plus, Capaldi said, "It's just a really beautiful, practical and thoughtful book." Other strong sellers have included Gratitude by Oliver Sacks, Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe, the Lumberjanes graphic novels by Grace Ellis and The Revenant by Michael Punke.
The only sidelines that Capaldi stocks are journals, stationery, postcards and greeting cards, and though they sell well year round they always see a bump in the holidays. Shinola journals and planners are selling, as are Slingshot planners and Rx Letterpress cards. Capaldi is particularly excited, though, about a line of temporary literary tattoos from Love & Lion made exclusively for Between the Covers.
Asked about broader changes over the last few holiday seasons, Capaldi answered: "Our staff has definitely witnessed a major decline in chatter about the demise of the written word, the end of bookstores and ordering on Amazon. We knew readers were smart!"
According to Mark Laframboise, buyer at Politics & Prose in Washington, D.C., the store is full of people and "it feels like Christmas," despite unseasonably warm weather in much of the Northeast. Between the World and Me continues to sell "like crazy," and Mary Beard's SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome is exceeding expectations. Laframboise noted that this year's category of sports books seems pretty weak compared to last year's, though it's hard to pinpoint titles that have underperformed. Politics & Prose also hasn't had any major problems getting books back in stock, though titles like H Is for Hawk and The Door by Magda Szabó, which have been out for most of the year but were named to many best-of-the-year lists, have at times been difficult to stock.
Along with "lots and lots" of holiday cards, many nonbook items are selling well, including DC Home T-shirts, woolen socks, blank books and, surprisingly, lip balm. P&P's last in-store author event of the year was on December 8 with Ray Lewis, retired Baltimore Ravens linebacker and current TV personality; Lewis's memoir, I Feel Like Going On: Life, Game, and Glory came out in October.
Compared to the last few holiday seasons, Laframboise added, this season feels very similar, and P&P's numbers are similar. Aside from an early Hanukkah getting things going for the store this year, he said, there's not that much different from years past.
At King's Books in Tacoma, Wash., owner sweet pea Flaherty reported that this holiday season has been busier than year's past, and the store has seen a greater number of special orders.
"I think locally we've built a reputation as a place people can find cool gifts for the holidays and get things we don't have in quickly," said Flaherty. His store's staff picks have been selling particularly well, including The Soul of an Octopus, Between the World and Me, M Train by Patti Smith, Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson and the cookbook Vegetarian India: A Journey Through the Best of Indian Home Cooking by Madhur Jaffrey.
Recently Flaherty has had trouble restocking some titles, including the art book Soviet Bus Stops by Christopher Herwig, Cabin Porn: Inspiration for Your Quiet Place Somewhere by Zach Klein and Steven Leckart, The Notorious RBG and the Illustrated Harry Potter. But on the whole, Flaherty said, most things have been easily available. Among nonbook items, meanwhile, the game Paper Sumo has been a favorite for both staff members and customers. T-shirts and salt blends from a local craftsperson have also done very well.
"We're definitely up this year," said Flaherty. "We are busier, there are more special orders. This could be because of the year or that we're just more on the ball this year. Several of our customers do all their holiday shopping here, which is great." --Alex Mutter