Robert Sindelar, managing partner at Third Place Books in Ravenna, Lake Forest Park and Seward Park, Wash., said the stores had a "very strong holiday season and year," after being down in 2020. And compared to 2019, Third Place Books was up 12% for December and the year overall.
Sindelar explained that although the store's bestselling title in December was technically Amanda Gorman's Call Us What We Carry, Third Place "pre-sold 90% of those last February." After that, Brené Brown's Atlas of the Heart, Nikole Hannah-Jones's The 1619 Project, Anthony Doerr's Cloud Cuckoo Land, Amor Towles's The Lincoln Highway, Louise Erdrich's The Sentence, David Graber and David Wengrow's The Dawn of Everything and Dave Grohl's The Storyteller were Third Place's bestselling frontlist titles. Dune by Frank Herbert, The Overstory by Richard Powers and Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer proved to be popular backlist titles, with Sindelar saying there weren't any real surprises there.
On the supply-chain side, things turned out much better than what the Third Place team had expected. The stores ordered early on many titles and ended up running out of very few overall. The biggest issues all involved gift and nonbook items.
"Many orders our gift buyers placed in the summer simply never arrived," Sindelar said. "Those areas of the store looked pretty decimated with 7-10 days still to go until the holiday."
Sindelar said there weren't any apparent changes in shopping behavior due to rising case numbers and the spread of the Omicron variant, but the team did notice that, overall, shoppers were in a very good mood. "Starting the day after Thanksgiving there was a definite vibe of, 'oh, I wasn't able to do this last year--I missed this.'"
Brian Lampkin, co-owner of Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, N.C., said the bookstore had its best December ever, despite the fact that Scuppernong continues to limit coffee and bar sales, has not resumed hosting events and adamantly requires customers to wear masks in-store. Lampkin remarked that he can't think of an easy explanation for having such a "rocking holiday season," but perhaps customers appreciate the store's insistence on safety.
Many of the store's bestsellers, Lampkin noted, were probably the same as many other indies--The 1619 Project, The Lincoln Highway and Call Us What We Carry being just a few examples--but there were some "really good books by local authors" that proved to be "wild cards." He pointed to Julia Ridley Smith's The Sum of Truffles, Alexis Oregera's Head Case and Stephanie Grant's Disgust, which was published by Succpernong Editions. A surprise hit was Let's Make Dumplings! by Hugh Amano and Sarah Becan.
Supply-chain issues were "not nearly as bad as feared," and customers were more understanding of holiday delays. Asked whether it felt like a normal holiday season in-store, Lampkin said the mood was still diminished by travel concerns, Omicron cases rising and the looming January 6 anniversary. There seemed to be a "pervasive sadness afoot," but that seems almost normal with the past two years.
At The Ripped Bodice in Los Angeles, Calif., holiday sales were about even with 2020 and up 25% from pre-pandemic levels, co-owner Leah Koch reported. While overall sales were roughly the same, she noted, there was much more in-store shopping in 2021 than the year before, with about two-thirds of all holiday sales in-store and the rest online.
The store's bestselling book for the holidays was The Love Hypothesis by Ali Hazelwood, which "continued to enjoy its TikTok-originated dominance." Tessa Bailey's books Window Shopping and It Happened One Summer were two and three on the list, respectively, and Mad & Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency by store co-owner Bea Koch was number four.
Koch said supply-chain issues were not as bad as expected, with the store "prepared for it to be much worse." By about the middle of November, they knew which titles would be unavailable later in the season and they were able to communicate that to customers, who had plenty of time to get other things. The store's biggest issue was a few of the more popular Christmas romances being unavailable, such as Jenny Holiday's A Princess for Christmas. She added that a spike in interest in those Christmas titles should not have been hard to predict.--Alex Mutter