Last Booksellers Forum Focuses on Shop Local Efforts

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For the presidential primary season, New Hampshire is the starting line -- however, for this year's American Booksellers Association Booksellers Forum season, it was the finish line.

On Thursday, May 1, approximately 60 booksellers attended the ABA Forum held in conjunction with the New England Independent Booksellers Association (NEIBA) at the Hilton Garden Inn in downtown Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Steve Fischer, NEIBA executive director, said of the gathering, "It was a really good turnout -- people definitely appreciate when you move these meetings around" to different venues. ABA COO Oren Teicher and Senior Director of Editorial Content Dan Cullen attended the forum, and Teicher began the day with a presentation of the educational session "Booksellers at the Tipping Point: Leveraging Localism and Independence to Promote Your Store."

By focusing on key trends in bookselling and retailing, "Booksellers at the Tipping Point" highlights a critical evolution in consumer sensibilities -- the growing importance for shoppers of such issues as local, sustainable economies; the unique characteristics of independent businesses; and the commitment to fostering a green lifestyle. Teicher noted, too, that the changing retail landscape is bearing out these trends.

Citing statistics from the International Council of Shopping Centers, Teicher said that the trade group estimates that store closings will be up 25 percent in 2008 over the previous year, and he noted that a growing number of national chains were filing for bankruptcy. In addition, Teicher spoke of the January national survey of independent retailers, which found that in communities with "Buy Local" campaigns there was an average gain in 2007 holiday sales of about two percent over 2006, while retailers in cities without "Buy Local" campaigns reported an increase of less than 0.5 percent. "We know that 50 percent of your customers are shopping in your stores because you are independent," Teicher said.

A major focus of the session was how booksellers could best tell their story to their communities, especially through a compelling public relations plan that clearly communicated that the bookstore was "a locally owned, independent business, and a community center." And, looking ahead, Teicher said ABA was committed to providing booksellers a completely new program to help them tell their stories in their communities. (There will be a major announcement about ABA's new initiative at the upcoming Celebration of Bookselling on Thursday, May 29, beginning at 5:00 p.m.)

Jeff Wheeler of Village Book Store in Littleton, New Hampshire, told BTW, "I was very glad I came to the forum.... The whole public relations approach [of "Booksellers at the Tipping Point"] made a lot of sense." And, he added, "I think people will be very receptive to it."

Wheeler said that he was already in discussion with other independent retailers in Littleton about creating a local business alliance and that the retailers -- like consumers -- were growing more receptive to establishing a stronger local connection.

For ABA Board candidate Dan Chartrand of Water Street Bookstore in Exeter, New Hampshire, a big plus of the session were "the great ideas on how to further the conversation we've been having in our community" on spreading the message of localism. "It's absolutely up to us to take the language and the tools and transfer them to our community," he said.

"Shop local is certainly something that I've always wanted to work on here," said NEIBA President Judy Crosby of Island Books in Middletown, Rhode Island, "and the more support and information we're armed with [from ABA] the easier it will be for stores, especially smaller stores" to communicate the independent retailer message in their communities."

Following the education program and lunch, was the ABA Booksellers Forum. Key topics discussed included ABA's member website,, especially its discussion forums and wiki; the nomination and selection process for the Picks lists; and the implications of the recent victories for equitable sales tax collection in New York State.

"I especially loved the extended discussion of Picks," said Water Street Bookstore's Chartrand, "it brought great transparency to the process and made me want to participate even more."

Following the forum, NEIBA presented an update on its Peer Review Program and a reception at Portsmouth's RiverRun Bookstore. NEIBA President Crosby noted that there was strong interest in the Peer Review Program, which, she said, "is still evolving... but we will continue to strengthen the entire program, and it will offer a lot of value to members." --Dan Cullen