Independent booksellers rang in 2014 with high spirits and stories of success, as special holiday sales and buy local efforts brought customers out to support local bookstores in communities nationwide.
Booksellers who spoke to Bookselling This Week reported a strong holiday selling season, with some notable sales increases over last year. Many also noted that the buy local message really resonated with customers this year, and that local authors were among the popular picks.
“Christmas sales were good,” said Janis Irvin, owner of The Book Bin  in Northbrook, Illinois. With Hanukkah coming early this year, “we had a strong November so we were worried sales might drop off, but they just kept going into December.” While the store’s bestsellers are typically fiction, this year’s biggest titles were nonfiction, including Doris Kearns Goodwin’s The Bully Pulpit (Simon & Schuster), The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (Viking), and Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America, 1927 (Doubleday). Other standout titles at the Book Bin includedTransatlantic by Colum McCann (Random House), The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (Simon and Schuster), and The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure (Sourcebooks Landmark).
The Book Bin’s sales were up over last year, and, like many other booksellers, Irvin noticed a change in consumer attitude. “I’ve had this store for 42 years,” she said. “I really feel that customers were more attuned to an independent bookstore. People were walking in saying ‘now this is a real bookstore.’ It was a very positive sales season for us.”
At Reading Rock Books  in Dickson, Tennessee, December sales increased by more than 24 percent over last year. Laura Hill, who co-owns the store with her sister Amy Jernigan, said that the most popular items were from local authors.
A pictorial history of the county rang up huge sales throughout the end of the year, and another very popular title detailing the history of the area — available only through the bookstore and the local museum — helped Reading Rock attract brand-new customers.
“What really helped was that there were people who had never been in our store who came in to buy that book,” said Hill. “They were astonished to find a bookstore here. It brought so many new people through our doors.” Additional standout titles included Santa Is Coming to Tennessee by Steve Smallman (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky) and The Southerner’s Handbook: A Guide to Living the Good Life by the editors of Garden & Gun (HarperWave).
The buy local message also proved to be helpful leading up to the holidays, said Hill. Dickson’s local Chamber of Commerce produced “buy local” T-shirts for local business employees to wear on Fridays during the summer, and the whole town participated in Christmas in Downtown Dixon in December, a festive open-house event involving many community businesses.
“Last year was the best year we’d ever had, and we’re seven percent ahead of last year,” said Hill. “I’m over the moon about that.”
At Northshire Bookstore  in Manchester Center, Vermont, “holiday sales were good,” said store owner Chris Morrow. “We added a new store this year [in Saratoga Springs, New York], which had good sales as well.” This year’s holiday sales at the Vermont store matched last year’s, with one of the most popular titles being Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York (St. Martin’s Press).
Montrose, California’s Once Upon A Time Bookstore  kicked off the holiday season by participating in Indies First and welcoming 13 authors and plenty of customers to the store on Small Business Saturday, said owner Maureen Palacios. Sales remained strong through the months of November and December, and numbers increased over last year’s holiday selling season.
“We feel very confident going into the new year that things will continue to look up for us,” said Palacios, whose store is entering its 48th year in business with continued, strong support from the community.
Once Upon a Time offered significant post-Christmas sales and hosted a festive all-day New Year’s Eve sale before it closed down for inventory. Customers enjoyed snacks and drinks and large discounts on both holiday merchandise and books.
Several standout titles that flew off the store’s shelves included A Very Fuddles Christmas by Frans Vischer (Aladdin), who visited the store for an event, as well asI Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai (Hachette), Tequila Mockingbird by Tim Federle (Running Press), and Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle (Chronicle).
Gulliver’s Books  in Fairbanks, Alaska, had strong sales throughout the holiday season and saw a slight increase in online sales. Owner Christy Wiskeman found that the store did very well with local authors throughout November and December. “We had several local authors come out with books right at the beginning of the month that were very popular,” she explained.
Gulliver’s hosted two successful sales during the holiday season: a used book sale leading up to Thanksgiving and the other on Small Business Saturday weekend. Both were well received by customers, said Wiskeman.
At Readers’ Books , in Sonoma, California, sales were up over last year, said store co-owner Andy Weinberger, but more noticeably, there seemed to be a shift in consumer behavior. “I think there is an increased understanding of the need to shop local,” said Weinberger. “People seem to be getting the message.” Yesterday, Readers’ held its annual New Year’s Day party, which offers customers a 50 percent discount on calendars and free refreshments.“It’s basically an excuse for people who don’t like football to come by,” said Weinberger.
In Durango, Colorado, “it was like Christmas caught everyone by surprise this year,” said Andrea Avantaggio, co-owner of Maria’s Bookshop , which saw an increase in sales during the two weeks before Christmas.
“We all noticed lots of appreciation” among customers who were happy to have a local bookstore to shop in, said Avantaggio. They included many out-of-town customers who waited to do their book shopping while visiting Durango. “I heard lots of concern about the loss of their own local bookstores and the health of ours,” she said. “It was really very touching and made all of us feel valued in a very special way.”
Big sellers at Maria’s this season –– in addition to the Local First Durango “Buy Local” coupon book –– were Santa Is Coming to Durango by Steve Smallman (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky); I Could Pee on This: and Other Poems by Cats by Francesco Marciuliano (Chronicle Books); Dead Run: The Murder of a Lawman and the Greatest Manhunt of the Modern American West by Dan Schultz (St. Martin’s Press); The Emerald Mile: The Epic Story of the Fastest Ride in History Through the Heart of the Grand Canyon by Kevin Fedarko (Scribner); and Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’s Deadliest Day by Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan (W.W. Norton & Company). “Lots of local interest on that list,” said Avantaggio.
At Hockessin Book Shelf  in Hockessin, Delaware, sales were up over last year’s fourth quarter, said owner Rebecca Dowling. A surprising standout title throughout the holidays was The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History by Robert M. Edsel and Bret Witter (Little, Brown).
On New Year’s Eve, Hockessin hosted “Books and Baubles,” a two-hour shopping event in partnership with a local jeweler that offered jewelry and new books at a 30 percent discount. Though the store was closed on New Year’s Day, the event on the eve was a way for Hockessin to get a head-start on one of its New Year’s resolutions, said Dowling, which is to partner with more businesses in the area.
At Acorn Books  in Dover, Delaware, which opened in the fourth quarter of 2012, “it was encouraging to see consistent sales,” said co-owner Ginny Jewell. “Customers were encouraging one another to shop local this year and telling us about it,” she said. “It seemed that Small Business Saturday was just the start of the local shopping season this year as opposed to last year when it was the one day they did it.”
In keeping with that trend, local books did well this year, said Jewell, adding that anything with “Delaware” in the title sold well, as well as books published by Arcadia, which represents local authors and subjects. Additionally, Acorn sold 65 copies of The Beach: Wildlife, Nature, and the Beauty of Coastal Delaware (Portfolio Books), a large, high-ticket art book by local photographer Kevin Fleming. “This shows just how much local authors and subjects are on the rise this season.”
Looking ahead, Jewell plans to increase Acorn’s inventory, strengthen its web presence, and tighten the store’s mission statement to make sure the community knows what Acorn Books stands for. The bookstore has plans in the works to partner with local poets and authors. ”It’s an exciting time for us,” said Jewell.—Sydney Jarrard and Elizabeth Knapp