Monthly Archives: December 2014

Your 2015 Reading Resolutions?

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 31, 2014

Ah, 2015, we welcome you with open arms and hopeful hearts. As many of us set new goals for more alert, thoughtful, better lived, better experienced, better managed (ha!) lives, some are also thinking about the reading year ahead.
One Vermonter we know has set out to read the Modern Library’s 100 Best English-Language Novels of the 20th Century. Not in a single year, but she is determined not to read anything else until she’s finished those one hundred books. It’s an admirable goal, and one I would borrow from with a few tweaks for myself.
The Modern Library list is solid canon fare, mostly by deceased white male writers in the Western tradition. I would love to find a classics “best of” list that draws from a broader variety of authors and countries and perspectives. In children’s books this year, School Library Journal‘s 100 Best Books of 2014 was such a breath of fresh air to peruse — it’s a lively list, full of wonderful rich diversity, and it feels to me the way a collection of books should be. It’s inclusive, unexpected, and full of gems. I would like to find an adult list of classics — for my purposes, classics that have stood the test of time — that feels as fresh and diverse.
I’m tempted to simply plumb the depths of the New Directions catalog. The books are delicious. I also always love David R. Godine’s taste in books; to fully populate my imaginary ideal reading list, I would likely need to draw from some more non-Western sources as well.

New Directions 2

Some of New Directions’ most popular titles.

Any suggestions?
Regardless of where my adult literary adventures take me, I know that in the world of children’s books, I plan to double-down on my efforts to read as many diverse offerings our author and publishing colleagues bring forth as possible. And I am looking at some ways to revamp my diversity database to reflect changes in what is needed in 2015, as opposed to in 2009 when I started it.
Most importantly, what are YOUR reading resolutions for this year? Are there authors whose *entire* bodies of work you want to read? (Katherine Paterson! Naomi Shihab Nye! Gregory Maguire! Grace Lin! Kate DiCamillo — oh, wait, you’ve already done that? Good on you! Christopher Paul Curtis! Louise Erdrich! Gary Schmidt! Natalie Babbitt! Gerald Morris! Diana Wynne Jones! Margaret Mahy! Richard Peck! Ursula K. LeGuin!) Okay, I’ll stop for now. Sooo many good ones out there; the few I’ve identified here have so many titles published that reading all of their books would be a nice, yet doable challenge.
Are you planning to read more books this year? Or read more nonfiction, or fiction, or poetry? Try reading new kinds of literature? Are you planning to write a book?
Editors, what do YOUR reading resolutions look like? I suspect they are different from the rest of ours, even though we are in this field together. Fellow booksellers, how about you?
Please do share your thoughts with us. It makes us so happy to hear from you!
Finally, thanks so much for taking the time to read Josie and Kenny and my posts here at PW’s ShelfTalker. And thanks to our fearless editor, Diane Roback, for somehow managing both to give us free reign and keep us in check, as needed. Each year, we all think about what we are bringing to PW readers, and how to make our posts better, more fun, more interesting, and worth your time. Feel free to share your ideas on how we can best serve you in the comments below or by email (mine is ebluemle at
Happy New Year, everyone!

Holiday Round-Up

Josie Leavitt - December 29, 2014

This is the last Monday recap for the year. The last week proved to be busy, fun, and creative. We saw more people come shopping than ever before. In speaking with other merchants in Shelburne, everyone reported sales were up this year over last year.
I think this is from the combination of factors, but the chief thing I attribute it to is the group advertising the shops in the village did together. mBuying ad time as a block of stores, rather than just one or two, helped build momentum for Shelburne stores. The beauty of my town is if someone comes for just one store, because of the ads they were made aware of the other stores and stayed in town longer for their shopping. People would come to our store with bags from other stores around town and that was a lovely sight. Continue reading

A Tale of Two Counters

Kenny Brechner - December 26, 2014

The holiday season, for booksellers who are at the store every day,  is a single long wave and as it begins to recede tired minds sift through the happy debris of warm, funny, odd, and intense moments that remain. Here is a woman coming in to replace the Elf on the Shelf which the family dog had mauled. “It’s not his fault,” she reported. There’s a four-year-old girl telling us how she’d picked out  Uni the Unicorn as a gift for her father. “He’s going to love it so much!”


Our friends at Mainestone Jewelry.

One of these moment I wanted to share occurred a week ago, last Thursday that is. Sam, one of my college staffers, was looking around the store for interesting items to help demo the Mirascope sitting on our cash register counter. A fun thing about the Mirascope, winner of the Best Science Toy at our Stocking Stuffer of the Year Awards, is to try out different objects in it. He had the idea of going two stores down the street to Mainestone Jewelry, one of my favorite local stores, and a very good neighbor.  They have a display of small stones for 25 cents each.
twocountSam was away much longer than expected. He returned with a cup full of intriguing objects, small stones, pins, medallions, and broaches. “They couldn’t stop playing with it,” said Sam. “They gave us all this stuff for free.” I immediately sent him down with a free Mirascope as a thank you. Ten minutes later customers who had seen the Mirascope on the counter at Mainestone started filing into the bookstore to buy them from us.  In five days, between our two counters, I had sold all 64 Mirascopes I’d had on hand when I sent Sam down the street. It wasn’t a calculated marketing move, just the holiday season at work among downtown neighbors.

Visions of Sugarplums, Gift Cards, and Checkmarks

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 24, 2014


Every year, Josie buys 40 lbs. of these delicious plum-flavored jelly candies (called “sugarplums”) from our friendly neighbor, The Shelburne Country Store. We keep a little plate of them–constantly refilled–for holiday shoppers to sample throughout the day all month long. Needless to say, this is a popular December feature at the store.

A few snapshots of the penultimate day before the holiday:
1) A grandmother comes in for her annual $100 gift card for her granddaughter, a child young enough to think of the card as her “credit card.” She comes in excitedly with her credit card all year long until the amount finally runs down and it’s time for a new one. Adorable.
2) A new customer asks to look through our supply of free bookmarks sent by publishers and authors to pick out several for her five-year-old grandson. He’s beginning to read, and is very serious about it. Whenever they pull out books to read together, he insists on getting his bookmark first so they can be sure to keep his place. Only, he calls it a “checkmark” instead of a bookmark. Again, adorable.
3) Not one, not three, not five, but eight kids who have grown up with the bookstore for the past 18 years have come in to say hello, chat, and find books for their family members. It’s hard to explain how charming it is to see these young adults come home from their far-flung new homes, and learn how their child selves have morphed into these beautiful, independent, grown people doing wildly varied, interesting things. What I love most is to see how they have, to paraphrase Kant, “become what they [already] are.”
4) After a long, busy day on the sales floor, I cap off my evening with a showing of It’s a Wonderful Life on the big screen at a local theater with friends. Retailers are often among the last people to have time to get into the swing of the holidays personally, because we are so focused on this month — 30 days that can account for 30% or more of our annual sales. So two hours in a theater filled with people who also get teary when the townspeople pour in to offer George their support is a terrific way to feel the spirit of family and friendship and holiday.
For those of you who have just finished Chanukah, and for those of you about to celebrate Christmas, and for those who celebrate any holiday or no holiday at all — I hope you are cozy, enjoying the glow of the people you love, and surrounded by brand-new books to see you through the winter nights.
What are the books you hope to get as gifts? Or have gotten and can’t wait to read?
Shelftalker and PW are on holiday for the next few days. We’ll see you next week.

An Unexpected Gift

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 23, 2014

The other day, Sandy took a phone call from a customer who was ordering some gift books. At some point, it was clear that the customer began telling her an anecdote, because Sandy said, “No, I hadn’t heard that story.” We don’t have a lot of time to listen to stories over the phone at this time of year, so I knew it must be something special. And it was.
The customer told Sandy how, many years ago, she and her son had moved away from their town in Massachusetts. They didn’t know anyone in Vermont, and her son did not want to move. To make matters worse, the new Harry Potter was coming out the day after they moved, so he wouldn’t be able to get the book from his favorite store with all of his friends. The mom called the little bookstore in their new town (ours), and discovered that we were indeed selling the new release at midnight. She told Sandy, “We came to the store, and not only was my son able to get his book, but there was a party going on to celebrate. We didn’t know anyone there, but there was such a strong sense of community. That night changed our whole feeling about the move. We knew we had moved to a good place, and that everything was going to be all right.”
I’m not sure if I can articulate how touching that was to us. That anecdote sidled into my heart alongside the child whose beloved dog had to be put down and all she wanted to do afterward was come to the store for a while; we were her blankie that day. For a bookstore to be able – just by EXISTING – to make someone feel included or comforted, well, that makes all the struggles worthwhile. (Well, that and connecting readers with fantastic books.)
For the customer to share that story was a gift to us this holiday season, and we are truly grateful. Like all retailers this time of year, we find ourselves both happy and utterly fried. We love and admire and are amused (and occasionally frustrated) by and so greatly appreciate our repeat customers. What they bring to the store — their stories, their trust in our recommendations, their own book suggestions, their senses of humor, their patience, their passion for reading, their investment in our business — is essential. Without them, we simply cannot be. And so I head into this last day and a half of craziness with a very full heart.
I like to think of all you readers out there able to slow down for the next week or so, enjoying the holidays and vacations of all varieties that you may spend with your loved ones sharing stories, sharing books, toasting loved ones who are no longer with us but are still so present, and reading for as many hours as your little hearts desire.
Mazel Tov and Merry Christmas!

Feeling the Love: Week 3 Recap

Josie Leavitt - December 22, 2014

This has been a tremendous week for the Flying Pig! Sales are way up, we have most of the books folks are looking for, and if we’re out of something, we are able to help folks regroup, and people are leaving the store happy with their purchases. As we head to the final days before Christmas, things have gotten hectic, harried, and fun and we’ve gotten unprecedented media coverage that has led to record-breaking sales.
– Let’s start with the huge news: The Wall Street Journal is featuring our store in a travel piece set to run on December 27 about how seven bookstores across the country are anchoring their city.  We got this news late Thursday afternoon and Elizabeth smartly emailed press releases about it to all the local TV stations, two of whom came with crews on Friday morning. The pieces aired Friday night and Saturday saw a massive influx of new shoppers to the store. One mom said to her daughter, “Forget Barnes & Noble: we’ve found our new bookstore!” I’m not sure anything has made my retail heart soar more than that.
In a non-scientific survey of customers, about 60% of Saturday’s shoppers had never been to the store before. All signed up for our frequent buyers club and took copies of our newsletter. The best way to get new customers is wow them once they walk in and we seem to have done that, so it was a very busy weekend, full of great compliments and happy people.
– The other enormous news for the week was the Elizabeth’s book, Tap Tap Boom Boom, was tapselected by the New Public Library as one of the top 100 books of the year! It’s a great list and we couldn’t be happier for Elizabeth’s book to be included. This news was also a large part of our press coverage. I spent much of Saturday ringing our “we need register help bell” twice to indicate there was a book she needed to personalize. It was fun and great to see Elizabeth wearing her author hat at the store and making people’s holidays by being able to personalize books for customers. Even one of our shyer staffers got into ringing the bell twice for Elizabeth. 

– One of our co-workers who just loves working the hustle and bustle of the holidays had to go to California to be with an ailing family member last Monday, so we were down one vital person until after the New Year. This is hard, but points up the family nature of the bookstore. It’s not about retail, it’s about heart and doing the right thing. We text her updates and of course she’s thrilled for us, but sad to missing such a fun week.
– Book deliveries are still a problem. One of our largest distributors continues to have what would normally be overnight shipments arrive two to three days later, which has forced us to adjust who we order from. We did get deliveries from Fed Ex on Saturday and UPS on Sunday, so clearly they’re working hard to clear the backlog from the storm a few weeks ago.
– I’ve noticed this year that people don’t seem as frantic as they have in years past. There is some flexibility with book choices and we are working hard to get creative about books and suggest things that someone would love, even if it’s not their first choice. I do love this part of the holiday: thinking outside the box and delighting someone with an unexpected choice that turns out to be perfect.
– Elizabeth has done a great job of bringing in some last-minute unique sidelines that are wowing folks. One in particular are the cards, prints, and hand mirrors of a local artist, Jess Polanshek, who Elizabeth blogged about in February. I am stunned at how quickly all of her work is selling. It is truly unique and I’m so happy people are responding to her art.
– As we head into the final days before Christmas and the last two days of Hanukkah, I feel like the marathon is almost over and I’m so pleased with how we’ve run the race thus far. And I’m really enjoying the appreciation of customers who are all being so gracious about telling us how much our store means to them.
Retailers, how was your week? Any surprising sales trends?

The Last Chance Guessing Game

Elizabeth Bluemle - December 19, 2014


Kikkerland’s Decision Maker, a very popular item at the store this time of year.

This is make-it-or-break it time for indie booksellers. These last days before Chanukah and Christmas mark our last chance to order with publishers and distributors in time for our customers’ deadlines. That means it’s our last gasp at guessing which books are going to be popular, which classic titles are suddenly going to resurge, and which of our newsletter books and staff picks will take off. Every year, there are national bestsellers and unexpected sleeper hits (like Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which Josie mentioned in Monday’s blog post, and now Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See), whose publishers were caught off guard by the book’s success and are now frantically trying to reprint, stock, and ship before the 24th.
We can’t anticipate every single sought-after title, but we do our darndest. And we know what we personally always recommend for gifts, so we need to stay on top of those in addition to everything else. For example, this time of year, we know that we can sell as many of The Complete Stories of Flannery O’Connor as we decide to stock. The same is true of Ray Bradbury’s short stories, Pablo Neruda’s Odes to Common Things, and The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty.
In addition to asking our fortune-telling Decision Maker (pictured above) whether a particular newly released title is likely to fly off the shelves, we also consult the following:

  • Bestseller lists from the major newspapers, IndieBound, and the New England Independent Booksellers Association
  • “Best of the Year” lists from 8 to 10 review and newspaper publications
  • The NEIBA Holiday Catalog
  • Our own bestsellers from the past six weeks, trying to spot rising trends
  • Classics, which always sell extra well during the holidays
  • Newbery, Caldecott, National Book Award, Coretta Scott King, and other award winners

We also check stock on our shelves, trying to fill missing gaps in popular series (always ordering extras of the first and last volumes, which sell about five times faster than the books in between) and trying to predict if there’s going to be an unexpected run on quiet backlist hardcovers. The Borrowers series is quiet much of the year, but sees a decided uptick in December, as do all of the classic series (Paddington, Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie, Winnie the Pooh, Madeline, Babar, Narnia, Charlotte’s Web, and so on).
This is the time of year when national media outlets are releasing all of their “Best of” lists — some of them as late as this week! — so we will have unexpected requests for sleeper titles that crop up on those lists.
On busy days, we may have more than 100 transactions, which may not sound like a lot in an 8-hour period, but when you consider that each transaction will likely include handselling of several individual titles, not to mention ringing up gift cards for teachers, tracking down stray boxes from distributors, wrapping presents, and trying to find needle-in-the-haystack single books that have been misshelved, well, it’s a lot of transactions! And it’s a LOT of fun.
This Sunday, we’ll place the last of our pre-holiday orders, cross our fingers, and play chicken with the tides of holiday shopping. Wish us luck!

Exercising Through the Holidays

Kenny Brechner - December 18, 2014

I was changing into my bathing suit last Friday morning in the locker room at the UMF Health and Fitness Center. It was 8:00 a.m. and there were five other grizzled middle-aged male regulars on similar missions, when the following conversation ensued.
“So Kenny, how many years have you had the bookstore now?”
“Twenty three.”
“Man, that’s a long stretch.”
“It has been a long run.”
“What do you attribute the store’s survival to?”
“Going to the gym every day.”
That answer was the source of a good group chuckle, but apart from being a bit of an overstatement it isn’t entirely a joke. Truth to say I had decided that this week’s post was going to be on the topic of how to survive the pressures of the holiday season, and I had come to the conclusion that every bookstore owner must have one big everyday activity outside the store that helps us make it across the finish line. For me that is a swimming workout.


The UMF HFC pool: a holiday season bff.

The holiday season is, of course, by far the most strenuous time of the year for booksellers. So far, at DDG, we are having our best December ever by a large margin. As of last week my eyes have been starting to close a little earlier in the afternoon every day regardless of my caffeine level. It might seem counter-intuitive to put in an hour of vigorous exercise every morning before going into the store, but I think it is actually more important than ever.
First of all it clears one’s thoughts and gives a real chance to think through what needs to be done at the store. Second, it “sets one up amazingly” as the saying is, so that one is in peak form for the period before exhaustion takes over in the afternoon. Third, it is tremendously good advertising for the store.  More than any other time of year, when people see me at the gym during December they always think about the store, ask how we are doing, and are reminded of the need to come down to the bookstore for holiday shopping. In the first hour of business in the morning I always see people roll in that I had just spoken with at the gym. Furthermore I take orders between sets in the pool, in the locker room and elsewhere. This last Saturday, for example I was on the stationary bike for a warmup when a local dentist marched over.
bostongirl“Do you have the new book by the author who wrote The Red Tent?”
“Oh, The Boston Girl,” by Anita Diamant, eh?”
“Yes! I heard  her on NPR. It sounded great.”
“I’m sure I do have copies in stock.”
“Can you hold one for me?”
“Well, there is still a mile and a half of water between now and when I get to the store. I might forget but I don’t think I will. I’ll give you a call to confirm that it’s on hold. Give me a shout if you don’t hear from me.”
“Awesome, I will.”
I did remember, and she came in and bought gifts for everyone on her list. Exercising through the holidays? It’s the best advertising and the best medicine there is!

Everyone Gets Punchy This Time of Year

Josie Leavitt - December 16, 2014

‘Tis the season for booksellers and customers to get a little loopy from the pace of the holiday season.  Here’s how you know the season is in full swing:
– We laugh more. This is a great defense mechanism and one that makes work a little more fun. Instead of panicking at the UPS man whose cart is so full with book boxes his tires are actually going flat, we just start laughing at the enormity of his delivery. We chuckle through receiving 20 massive boxes, trying to call all the customers who have gotten their special orders, shelving all the books and restocking the shelves that are now looking bare. Laughter helps in so many ways, even if it’s not totally appropriate and we’re just laughing because someone made a silly noise while eating a cookie.
– Book requests from customers get very specific this time of year and can be challenging. Someone came in yesterday and asked for a book “…about a cheetah who teaches an adult something special and doesn’t die at the end.” She had the good grace to chuckle a bit when asking this. I’m not sure if my face betrayed my total lack of ideas, or if she knew this was a tough request. (We never found a suitable cheetah book, but I did convince her to shift gears and get My Family and Other Animals  by Gerald Durrell.)
– This time of year booksellers are always hungry. Most booksellers tend to get to lunch far later than they should on a regular day, but during the holidays, when lunchtime is a busy time at the store, we push lunch back even more. Yesterday, Elizabeth and I didn’t eat lunch until just after 5 pm. This is not good. Going that long without food just means that you’re brain isn’t working as well, so requests of cheetah books seem unnecessarily difficult and amusing. Plus, my stomach was growling loud enough that customers heard it and told me to go eat!
– When there’s a lull, it can get silly. For some reason, I’ve been delighting in throwing balls of paper at unsuspecting staffers. I try to bounce one off someone’s head into the recycling. They’re so shocked they just stand there looking indignant, which just makes me laugh even more. No one has yet thrown paper at me, but I would welcome it.
– There is never enough coffee.
– I wouldn’t have it any other way. As hard as a this season is for retailers, it’s also fun. Sure, it’s exhausting and the level of detail is painstaking, but there is something really exciting about selling so many books and knowing that there are going to be some very happy people on Chanukah or Christmas opening books that are perfect for them.

Second Week of December Recap

Josie Leavitt - December 15, 2014

As we enter the last 10 days before the holiday, it’s time for my recap of the previous week.
– Sales continue to be great. We are ahead of last year, even with the snow (and school snow days) and are continuing the trend of folks spending a lot more per purchase than they did last year or even the year before. Yes, we have lost some customers to the e-book world, but the ones who are buying physical books are buying heaps of them. Customers are finding that they can get a lot of shopping done at the store whether it’s for books, toys, games or stocking stuffers. We are happily wrapping and giving out sugar plums by the pound.
– Who knew that Pioneer Girl  by Laura Ingalls Wilder would be the hot book of the season that is 9780984504176utterly unavailable? I’m sure the publisher, South Dakota Historical Society, was taken by surprise as well, judging by the late date of the reprints.- Shipping issues continue to plague us. One distributor seems to have at least one box (if not two) go missing with every delivery. Theses errant boxes do eventually show up, but often it’s after someone’s deadline for their special order. Customers are not as understanding about these shipping issues as they could be. Of course, this makes sense because they all have deadlines, too. Another shipper seems to get our primary warehouse deliveries to us on time, but ones from our secondary warehouse take up to a week longer to arrive, which is several days later than normal. So, Elizabeth has spent a lot of time on the phone trying to sort this out and get things reshipped.
– One of our staffers, who loves the craziness of holiday shopping, had to go to California for her ailing sister. Darrilyn’s last workday of the year was Saturday. Being down one person is hard enough, but to lose someone who absolutely thrives on the chaos that is the holidays is a tough blow for the store. She and I created a tiny competition among the rest of the staff for who could sell the most of their five favorite books. Her top book is Being Mortal and it’s currently beating my top book, Nuts to You, by a tiny margin. But with 10 days left to go, it’s anyone’s game. And we’re all selling Darrilyn’s choices with gusto.
– When one staffer goes down, the others step up. Short of cloning ourselves, there’s not much to be done except pick up extra shifts. Everyone has taken at least one of her shifts so we’re essentially covered, but it’s going to be a challenge this week until David comes back from college and helps save the day by working December 20th through 24th.
– Th first big snowstorm of the year took not one day but two to finally get out of town. The first hit caused us to close early on Wednesday because the roads were looking really bad. The second blast of the storm caused so much tree damage at my house that until all my neighbors helped clear the trees, the snowplow man couldn’t come. Staffers who live in Burlington were able to come in at the regular time. I wasn’t able to get there until after one. We were all just grateful that didn’t happen on the weekend.
– The only thing that I’d like to change about this season is the music. We are stuck on the same bad five CDs and I’m starting to lose my mind with Barbra Streisand’s version of Jingle Bells.