[Editors' Note: The following is part one of a survey of recent sidelines sales at bookstores around the country.]
Like many booksellers, Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, Pa., carries
a range of sidelines at Christmas. "The rest of the year, it's kind of
a mixed bag," Buff Rodman told Shelf Awareness
. For the second
season in a row, the Disappearing Civil Liberties Mug was popular,
perhaps all the more resonant after the revelation in December about
National Security Agency spying on Americans. The mug features the
complete text of the Bill of Rights, but the heat of a hot beverage
inside makes the text melt away temporarily. "We sold 40-50 of these
the week before Christmas," Rodman commented. (The supplier of the mugs
is the Unemployed Philosophers Guild
, a veritable treasure trove of politically correct and incorrect items.)
Another popular Mystery Lovers sideline, possibly related, is Warm Whiskers Herbal Wraps
stuffed animals filled with lavender-scented buckwheat that can be
heated or cooled and worn on the neck or back to relieve tension. But
the store likely will not restock them until late this year. "We're not
known for sideline items," Rodman explained. "It's really only during
the holidays that people think to buy non-book items from us."
By contrast, Blue Willow Bookstore in Houston, Tex., which boasts "an
awesome selection" of gift items on its Web site, does "a lot with
puzzles and games," owner Valerie Koehler said. "We try to carry
unusual games, ones that you aren't likely to find at Wal-Mart." Hot
games this past season included Blokus, a strategy board game, and Flip
Side, made by Think Fun
a manufacturer of "mind challenging games." Also extremely popular:
Find-it, a plastic tube that has lots of little stones and hidden items
in it, kind of like a 3-D Where's Waldo. (Find out more about Find-it
at 877-346-3482.) Koehler recently ordered another three cases.
Sales of games and puzzles at Blue Willow doubled in December 2005
compared to the same month a year earlier. "We have a lot of $30 family
games, more expensive than most books," Koehler said. "We expected the
percent of sidelines sales to have risen, but it has remained at 17% of
total sales for the past three years." At the same time, total sales
are up 10%, so the store is selling more books, too.
Blue Willow also carries plush animals, and like most bookstores that
go fuzzy, Blue Willow often combines them with books. Curious George is
especially popular now--in anticipation of the movie opening February
10. During the holiday season, Koehler said, Raggedy Ann was a
"sentimental favorite with grandmothers."
Koehler often looks for generic stuffed animals, especially armadillos
(which are big in Texas), that although not specific to any one book,
can still work as a tie-in. "We do a lot of gifts and provide
free gift-wrapping," she commented. "There aren't any toy stores in the
area, so we've taken that lead." Despite the emphasis on gifts, Koehler
declared adamantly: "We are a bookstore, not a toy store."
Likewise, Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops in Milwaukee, Wis., has done well
with a variety of plush toys, including the Melissa and Doug lines,
according to Catherine Wallerg, sidelines buyer. "We put together a
package combining their penguin (which stands two feet high) and The March of the Penguins
book and DVD for the holidays," she said. "We're doing it again for Valentine's Day."
In addition, Uglydoll keychains and dolls (from Prettyugly
are all the rage with young adults. "It's an urban cute kind of thing,"
Wallerg said. "I keep expecting them to stop selling, but they keep
going." Jennifer Weiner had an Uglydoll pictured on the back of her
recent book, Goodnight Nobody: A Novel
, and the dolls have appeared in several movies as well.
In a different kind of cross-merchandising effort, Schwartz packaged The Gift of Nothing
by Patrick McDonnell with an empty box. It was nothing if not
successful: the store plans to repeat the combination for Valentine's