With less than a week to go until Hanukkah and Christmas Eve, independent bookstores around the U.S. are hoping for a strong finish to a compressed holiday shopping season.
At Lark & Owl Booksellers in Georgetown, Tex., co-owner and project manager Jane Estes reported that the rush started Thanksgiving weekend with a busy Black Friday and even bigger Small Business Saturday. The following weekend was even better, thanks to an annual Christmas shopping event during which the town opens several streets to foot traffic only. So far, Estes continued, Stephen Harrigan's Big Wonderful Thing: A History of Texas has been one of the standouts of the season. She and her staff expected the book to do well, but have been pleasantly surprised with just how briskly its sold. Other strong sellers include Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Wrecking Ball, Edward Carey's Little, Erin Morgenstern's The Starless Sea and Delia Owens's Where the Crawdads Sing, which Estes added is selling surprisingly well given how long its been available.
When asked about any issues with restocking titles, Estes said her Penguin rep had warned her in advance to stock up on Dan Buettner's cookbook The Blue Zones Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100, which is flying off the shelves, but otherwise things are "running pretty smoothly." On the subject of sidelines, she said socks, and those from Blue Q in particular, are extremely popular, and the store is selling a lot of candles, jewelry and cards.
Pete Mulvihill, co-owner of Green Apple Books in San Francisco, Calif., said that so far the season has been off to a sluggish start, and while a few ill-timed rainstorms haven't helped, he and his team "weren't super bullish to begin the season." That said, they are hoping for a late surge as Christmas and Hanukkah approach and are planning ahead to make sure popular titles remain in stock. Green Apple has done very well with Raina Telgemeier's Guts, Chanel Miller's Know My Name and Flea's Acid for the Children, all of which were signed. Alison Roman's cookbook Nothing Fancy: Unfussy Food for Having People Over, which Green Apple ordered "super aggressively," has been huge.
Mulvihill said he hasn't had any delivery problems from publishers or wholesalers, though there were some "storm-related hiccups," but UPS deliveries have begun showing up very late in the afternoon, which is "maddening." Non-book items are selling well, including Finger Monsters, Bananagams and a variety of Green Apple merchandise like beanies. Mulvihill added that the store's website has been a "lone bright spot all year." In addition to book deliveries, for which Green Apple offers 99¢ shipping, gift cards and in-store pick-up orders have also been popular.
At Source Booksellers in Detroit, Mich., owner Janet Webster Jones and her colleagues have seen a busy holiday season so far, boosted by a series of celebrations and events that began in late November with the store's 30th anniversary celebration and continued through Black Friday and Indies First/Small Business Saturday. While Source Booksellers mainly carries nonfiction, the store does have some fiction, and Ta-Nehisi Coates's The Water Dancer has been doing well. Other strong titles include Sarah M. Broom's The Yellow House, Michelle Obama's Becoming: A Guided Journal for Discovering Your Voice and Malcolm Gladwell's Talking to Strangers.
When asked about gifts, Jones said her usual sidelines, such as oils, teas and chocolates, are doing well, along with After Dinner Amusements from Chronicle and the I Can Do It 2020 Desk Calendar. She added that she typically doesn't carry toys, but she has brought in the MerryMakers toys that go with the children's books One Love and The Snow Day, which have met with success. On the subject of deliveries, Jones said her store has fared pretty well and she hasn't had to wait on many titles. She has had several customers come in looking for The Blue Zones Kitchen, which now seems to be out of stock virtually everywhere.
In Montclair, N.J., Watchung Booksellers owner Margot Sage-EL reported experiencing significant delivery problems with UPS that have led to shipments that would normally show up in 1-2 days taking as many as 4-5 days to arrive. She noted that while publishers have done a "great job" of supporting indie with rapid deliveries, the problem seems to lie with UPS and is ultimately out of publishers' hands. As a result, Sage-EL and her team have been ordering titles early and deep, but she is concerned about not being able to rely on deliveries in the last week before Christmas.
Sage-EL said it's been hard to compare this holiday to years past due to the compressed timeframe, but the store has been busy and she expects things to continue to ramp up as Christmas and Hanukkah approach. Popular titles include The Water Dancer, John le Carré's Agent Running in the Field and Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell, while Bill Bryson's The Body, Kevin Wilson's Nothing to See Here and Julia Philips's Disappearing Earth have all been surprises. As far as gift items go, sidelines from Blue Q, the Unemployed Philosophers Guild and New York Puzzle Company are mainstays.
And at Magers & Quinn Booksellers in Minneapolis, Minn., events and marketing manager Annie Metcalf said the season got off to a bit of a slow start, due in part to some severe winter weather. She noted too that in other years when there's been a shorter-than-usual holiday season, it seems to catch customers by surprise, with the rush not really beginning until much closer to Christmas. The Blue Zones Kitchen has been one of the store's bestselling titles so far; Dan Buettner lives in Minneapolis, and Magers & Quinn sold books at an event hosted by the county public library. Metcalf said the store moved a lot of copies at the event itself, and any copies that were left over sold almost immediately afterward. Other popular titles include the cookbook Nothing Fancy and My Own Devices by Dessa, who is from the Twin Cities.
Metcalf added that she hasn't had too many restocking problems so far, but she has noticed some "interesting" UPS activity, with shipments being a little off. Instead of all boxes in an order arriving on one day, for example, they appear in "multi-box trickles" throughout the week. She also noted the store always does very well with letterpress cards during the holidays, and wool bookmarks made by a local craftswoman are one of the store's bestselling sidelines at the moment. --Alex Mutter