I spent the majority of yesterday in one of my favorite elements; I was at the Kerrytown Bookfest in Ann Arbor. This was my second year there manning the table for Crazy Wisdom. Last year's Bookfest was my very first off-site event for the store, so it was a pretty exciting anniversary for me. I was there all by myself (though I did get a break for lunch from our wonderful manager since the Farmers Market is within walking distance of the store), and this year, we tried to make our table stand out more.
If there's one thing I can't help loving about retail, it's merchandising. That is, displaying merchandise in such a way as to make it appealing to our customers, to catch their eyes and make them want to buy it. Merchandising is Srs Bsns, but it's also loads of fun! In the store, this usually takes the form of which books we put on the easels to represent a section, the middle trolley of rotating displays (once it was angels, then it was mermaids, fairies, yoga, etc), the upstairs little table of themed books, and, of course, the two front window displays. We also have many cubbies to display our art, jewelry, and statuary, but my department is really books, which means I get to play with the easels and occasionally the upstairs table.
I was told when I was hired that I was welcome to switch out easel books basically whenever I wanted because everyone else was afraid to touch them unless told to do so. I'm like a vampire. If you tell me to feel free to do something, I will continue to do it. So I immediately started switching out books on the easels, and you know what? They sold. Often. Even the CDs that I choose to play over the store stereo sell, and CDs are a hard sell in today's market, especially in a bookstore known for selling, you know, books. The books manager sometimes jokes that I have a magic touch that make things sell; that I should even put that on future resumes.
I guess I have some kind of subconscious ear on the pulse of our community because I am strangely good at choosing things people like to buy. Thus I gleefully looked forward to the Kerrytown Bookfest because it is one of our few events where we get to choose all of the books we display. (As opposed to most of my events which involve a specific author speaking and I am selling his or her books, usually the one he or she is there to talk about.)
Honestly, for us, the Bookfest is more about exposure than making money. I'm sure it isn't like that for everyone there, like the used book vendors and the jewelry sellers who are most probably there to make a profit. It's great to make a profit, of course! But it was also important for me to pass out the latest issue of the Crazy Wisdom Journal and to have a good variety of books that properly shows the public what our store has to offer. And we really do have a lot of diversity at Crazy Wisdom! We often surprise people with everything we have, and a lot of these people who say this to me don't even go upstairs where there is even more awesome stuff. If you've never been upstairs, please go. There isn't just tea, I assure you. We have books on yoga, cooking, travel, women's lit, men's lit, biographies, an entire youth section, and more, plus the building's architecture really shines. The lighting fixtures are beautiful, and I love the ceiling. Also, the cases along the stairs are filled with wonderful things, like the Dia de los Muertos case, which was recently replenished. (Look for the skeleton mermaid.)
So, heading to the Bookfest, I had a lot to choose from, and only one six foot table to display it all on. This year, we used two collapsible book cases, one of which I put on top of the table, the other I managed to wedge in next to the table while still keeping a space large enough for me to squeeze through so I wasn't totally trapped behind the table. People really like to browse, so I wanted enough books to entice people to spend a good amount of time at our table, but not so many that I couldn't haul them to and from the site.
Some sections I chose to highlight were steampunk (which turned out to be a big draw, surprise, surprise), young children's books (including a book entitled Reading With Babies, Toddlers, and Twos: a Guide to Laughing, Learning & Growing Together Through Books that also got a ton of attention from parents), fiction, both speculative and non, cooking, arts and crafts, herbalism, Wiccan, world religions, home brewing, tarot, astrology, Cheri Huber, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Pema Chodron.
I also had a little basket of buttons of which I sold only one. This made me a little sad because I love buttons, especially book nerd buttons. I am amused, however, by the one that sold. It was to a mother buying it for her daughter and said, "Stop texting - I'm right here!" Oh, the younger generations...
I was really surprised how much attention the Pocket Thomas Merton received. I'm pretty sure he has his own section within the store, but I don't think I had ever heard of him until I started working there. (Sorry to all the Merton fans out there. He seems like a great man.) I also took with me Detroit: an American Autopsy by local celebrity reporter Charlie LeDuff that sold pretty immediately. No surprise there. We can't keep that book in stock with many copies selling the same day we get them in. I have never seen a large hardcover sell so well. (If you read and enjoyed the topic of LeDuff's book, you should also check out Detroit City is the Place to Be: the Afterlife of an American Metropolis by Mark Binelli, now also available in eBook and next month in paperback with a not nearly as pretty cover.)
I think I succeeded in getting out name out there considering I ran extremely low on free bookmarks and passed out over ten coupons for 10% off in-store purchases. (I posted on Facebook that I had goodies for people who came down and checked out our steampunk books, but did anyone take me up on the offer? Nope. Their losses.) I also talked with an excited trio who has a steampunk themed party coming up and needs more accessories. I suggested they check out our steampunk jewelry and do-dads in the store. They got coupons. Also there was a young man who had just recently moved to Ann Arbor and had been by our store a number of times, but had yet to check us out. I welcomed him to the city, gave him a journal and a coupon, and told him a bit about what we're all about.
On the flip side of that, I also received a lecture about Detroit political corruption from a fellow indignant over the title of one of our books, Say Nice Things About Detroit by Scott Lasser. He challenged me to say one nice thing about Detroit. I didn't want to be all cliche and suggest the Detroit Institute of Arts, or the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, or the Fox Theatre, or the Michigan Science Center, all of which are very nice things, so I went with the Heidelberg Project, which I happened to think is very cool. This gentleman thought it amounted to urban blight and declared defacing graffiti more of an art form. He also thought it should be shut down because it is so ugly. How can you really argue with someone who has that kind of attitude? So I didn't. I just let him talk, made carefully placed comments, and we both parted with smiles. He was right that Detroit has a history of serious corruption, and he obviously knew what he was talking about. I certainly didn't grow up with any empathy for the city, but I have also since found some redeeming qualities, though admittedly almost exclusively in the art scene. I also don't think government is the defining factor of a society. It isn't the population that puts people in power. It's money. And occasionally the mob.
So even though I had to rise bright and early for a full day o' work, it didn't feel like work. I love festivals, especially of the nerdy variety. It warms my heart to see people get excited over the printed word. Because people who work with books aren't there just to make a buck, they genuinely love what they do. If they don't, they won't last long. One of the tables next to me was actually selling handmade jewelry and lovely bookmarks made from mostly locally sourced stones. Even her work was a labor of love, which was obvious in the pride that came through her voice when she talked about how she strives to use Michigan-native stones when possible. I love that she crafts fancy bookmarks. Someone who doesn't like books could never make something so beautiful for them.
If you missed this year's Kerrytown Bookfest, keep an eye on the website for next year's event. I hope to be there as well!