Even though my non-book budget is mostly allocated for the year, with orders of scarves and candles and buttons and holiday cards and pretty things arriving in heaps of boxes from now through mid-December, I still discover fun things I can’t resist buying for the store while exploring the trade show floor at NEIBA, our New England Independent Booksellers Association’s fall conference.
I remember when our regional trade show exhibits were so filled with vendors they could barely fit into the convention center space. Every major publisher and most small publishers exhibited books throughout the giant room, and ‘sidelines’ vendors (sidelines are non-book gifts, greeting cards, games, and toys) had at least two or three aisles of tables. Now the show floor is much smaller than it was in the glory days of the ’80s, ’90s, and early 2000s, and is set up for just one day instead of three. Still, it continues to hold surprises.
My favorite discoveries are those companies that are still small and new enough (or local enough to the convention) that the cost of exhibiting is worth the exposure to a group of booksellers. Once those companies grow large enough, they outgrow the regional trade shows and only go to BookExpo. So NEIBA is a great place to find up-and-comers. Some of this year’s catch:
Maggie Stern Stitches socks. The display of socks featuring noteworthy women stopped me in my tracks with their bright colors and current political figures. Not only is the beloved and ubiquitous RBG featured, but Michelle Obama, Elizabeth Warren, Sonia Sotomayor, Nancy Pelosi and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez make an appearance!
There’s even a photo of Madeleine Albright wearing Maggie Stern’s Albright socks in their catalog (this image comes from Facebook):
I also visited our new Taza Chocolate friends, whose unique and delicious treats debuted at our store this spring and summer and have been a great success. They were showing off some irresistible new items, too many of which I sampled. From egg nog crunchy chocolate wheels (I was extremely skeptical, but it tasted great) to vegan paleo dairy-free cane-sugar-free almond milk quinoa crunch squares (delicious; the entire bag was gone before I got home from the show), these will also be on our shelves for the holidays.
Those samples the Taza folks generously heaped upon me have made it to the store’s snack box (well, most of them made it), to the great delight of staff. In the avaricious words of my colleague, Emily: “What. Is. THAT?!” That, my dear Em, is a Raspberry Crunch bar. YUM! We both enjoyed it on Sunday and even left half the bar for everyone else. We were angelic to do so.
(Side note to Taza: I would love to see higher-res images on your website! Many of them don’t do justice to the handsome packages and delicious contents of your chocolate. They look so much better in person and I want people who newly encounter them to see them at their best.)
Finally, I noticed some cork-backed coasters from Drinks On Me Coasters with sayings that made me laugh. We haven’t ever carried coasters before, and I’m not sure I’ll bring these in, but they looked good up close (the website makes the colors look a little more garish than they actually are) and could be a funny gift.
A few samples:
One of their coasters was an adaptation of something from one of my favorite Sapling Press cards (the organic vegetables / regular donuts card), which did make me wonder about the sources for all the sayings. (I used to assume that people just put their own funny thoughts on the T-shirts and mugs and cards and coasters they sold, but that was naive. There is a lot of overlap and borrowing in the merchandise world, since it’s so easy to make products, and it can be hard to know the origins of things.) Still, there were plenty of funny things I’ve never seen before, and we might give these a try for December!
I also admired the new items and made an order with OrangeArt, which carries the most beautiful, appealing stationery items and fountain pens and art supplies, and am finishing up a restock with Christie at Semaki & Bird, whose earrings and nature notepads have sold and sold for us over the years, and which is always adding clever and/or beautiful new designs.
It was a good show for sidelines, and so now, while I am not in any psychic sense ready for the holidays, I am retail-ready for the holidays.