With a few exceptions, many independent booksellers had the best holiday season ever--or reported healthy gains in sales compared to the last three years. Among the major reasons for the tidings of joy were an increase in sales to former customers of Borders, whom some stores actively sought out; the buy local movement; and a range of strong titles.
At Bookshop Santa Cruz, Santa Cruz, Calif., sales in the holiday period were up 24% over the same period last year, and Friday, December 23, was the store's "best single day in over a decade," owner Casey Coonerty Protti said. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson--which sold more than 140 copies in the week before Christmas--was the closest to a blowout bestseller at the store, but sales were strong over a wide range of titles and genres. The only problem for the store this year, Protti indicated, was that some print runs apparently were smaller than usual, leading to shortages.
Sales at Bookshop Santa Cruz continued to be strong after Christmas and also rose online, beginning on cyber Monday.
Similarly, at BookTowne, Manasquan, N.J., sales this past December were significantly better than any December since the store opened almost five years ago. Owner Rita Maggio said that "the weather was cooperative, people walked Main Street and bought local." The strong end-of-the-year sales more than balanced out the dismal early quarter at the shore and led to a gain in sales at the store for the full year.
Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, Wis., had double-digit increases, in part because of the closing of two area Borders stores, according to owner Daniel Goldin. The store's two biggest surprises were two fiction titles, The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James, whose sales were double the fiction bestsellers of the past two years. Other strong sellers included The Tiger's Wife by Tea Obreht, The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes, American Boy by Larry Watson and The Paris Wife by Paula McLain.
Paperback fiction sales were quiet in comparison, although Swamplandia by Karen Russell had a last-minute surge.
History and biography titles, led by Steve Jobs, The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt and In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson, were strong. Trade paperback nonfiction titles, including The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, Cleopatra by Stacy Schiff, The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal and The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson, sold at the levels comparable to fiction paperbacks.
In gift books, the store sold out its display of The Louvre and "a few copies" of The Art Museum. Cookbook sales were tepid, led by Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi. In the children's area, Boswell had "late surges" on Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site by Sherri Duskey Rinker and Tom Lichtenheld, I Want My Hat Back by J. Klassen, Mouse & Lion by Rand and Nancy Ekholm Burkert (who lived in Milwaukee many years ago) and Me... Jane by Patrick McDonnell. In addition to titles by Brian Selznick and Jeff Kinney, Boswell's posted strong sales for Wildwood by Colin Meloy. Bear Stays Up for Christmas by Karma Wilson and Jane Chapman was the store's bestselling board book.
Business rose at the Eagle Eye Book Shop, Decatur, Ga., mostly because of more customers "who had not shopped with us before," Doug Robinson reported. The store used e-mail coupons and catalogue coupons to help lure ex-Borders customers. The biggest surprise for Eagle Eye was the very busy Friday, December 23, when many last-minute shoppers came in.
Jan Hall, co-owner of Partners Village Store & Kitchen, Westport, Mass., said that the last two weeks of the year were "especially busy" and the store looks to be "nicely up" in a range of categories, including books, for the year after months of "ups and downs with little rhyme or reason." Sales are up ahead of last year, which set a record.
One discordant note: sales at the Book Frog, Rolling Hills Estates, Calif., which was opened last fall by two former Borders employees, were "not what we expected or hoped for," co-owner Rebecca Glenn reported. Opening just a few weeks before the holiday season began likely hurt the store, and "some of our disappointment probably stemmed from the inevitable comparison between a holiday season in a brand-new 2,700-square-foot store and our previous superstore holiday experiences." Glenn added that the owners' lack of experience as buyers forced them to play catch-up during the season.
Still, the Book Frog owners "learned a lot" and are jumping eagerly into the new year.