Friday, October 25, 2013

No Visit to Austin Would be Complete Without a Trip to BookPeople.

Austin is famous for several things--music, technology, politics, and bats, among other things. But for a bibliophile, the biggest star on the map is reserved for BookPeople. Founded in 1970, it's just about four times as big as Boswell, spread over two selling floors, plus a third floor event space. I was in town for a bookseller conference, and I knew we were touring the store on Tuesday. That said, I couldn't resist taking an early peak and no surprise, I wound up spending well over an hour at the store.

Like many an independent store in a college town, their neighborhood was apparently once on the funky side, but now, aside from the Waterloo Records across the street, there are a lot of chain shops, like REI, Anthropologie, and Chicos. That said, I don't think you'd mistake BookPeople for a chain. They really play up their independence, and I'd expect nothing less from brains behind the "Keep Austin Weird" campaign, a mantra that is now part of Austin's DNA. There are staff recs everywhere, and though the signage is quite professional (not like our makeshift photocopied signs), there are a number of crafty signs for key displays too.

I'm always keeping an eye out for interesting sectioning, and Jason and I have talked about how unwieldy our fiction section is. I was intrigued by their breakout of historical fiction. It's a nice separation, and I wonder how it works. I like it!

BookPeople does a great job with their gifts too. I'm a bit nosy about these things, and usually decode the received date on labels. Yes, you can do this on many of our labels too. I was shocked by how up to date the bulk of their merchandise was. I went to an unnamed store in New England where I found gift product that was 4-5 years old.

Only long-timers know that BookPeople's origins were as a new age store. You can see a bit of it in that they sell Buddhas and incense.  One of the Buddhas is well over $1000. Based on their assortment, I think they do very well with the pop culture-y stuff from vendors like Kikkerland, DCI, Fred, and Accoutrements. I bought a great UK card that if I bring in to Boswell, I will shout out BookPeople in a Saturday posting.

As I mentioned previously, I attended a reception at BookPeople where we got a tour of the store. The evening was sponsored by the University of Texas Press, where were treated to a presentation of some titles of interest, with a bag of bookish treats for later. Among the highlights was Diana Kennedy's My Mexico, a micro-history of the pecan (called The Pecan), and a timely history called The Family Jewels: The CIA, Secrecy, and Presidential Power. Texas is said to have a strong photography list, and I was intrigued by one of the entries they were touting called Photojournalists at War. 

Did I mention how impressed I am by BookPeople's step and repeat? I learned this terminology from Kohl's, by the way, when we were working on the Lauren Conrad signing. It's what you see behind red carpet presentations. Talk about getting your name out there!

Most folks left after the reception and tour, but I was excited about that night's author event. It was our old friend William Joyce, whose new book is The Mischievians. This picture book chronicles those heretofore unknown creatures who are responsible for responsible for the disappearance of socks and the appearance of belly button lint. This field guide tells of two kids who meet Dr. Zooper, and learn about creatures like The Stinker, The Itcher, and The Endroller.

I am apparently bad luck, because the BookPeople folk were going to play the Academy Award winning short, "The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore" but couldn't get the machine to play. Last year when we hosted Mr. Joyce, we pulled the short from Youtube, only it turned out to be an unauthorized edit. Fortunately nobody blamed me. I said hi and got a copy signed for Amie, who is a collector. Short or no short, we all enoyed the movie popcorn.

I mentioned there were lots of recommendations, not just from booksellers but from critics too. I found an end cap with recs from various media sources, and I was blown away that they had my NPR recs for Mary and Lou and Rhoda and Ted, as well as Queen of the Air. It got me a little weepy.

On the way out of town, I had time to stop by the BookPeople store at the airport. I was glad I hadn't located this location on the way in. Though decked in BookPeople blue, it was clearly a licensed store (much like the Red Balloon in the Minneapolis St. Paul airport, and the Barbara's at O'Hare) where the BookPeople folk were probably not even consulted on stock. It's the only way I can explain a front table display of Sh*t My Dad Says and the sequel, I Suck at Girls, which came out over a year ago to little attention.

Airports do this all the time nowadays, as localizing the airport retail assortment is a hot trend. You see that with restaurants at the Milwaukee airport. But the Rennaissance Bookshop at our airport is about as authentic as you can get. I'm just not sure whether these kinds of deals unlock a brand's value or waters it down. But then again, nobody's asked me.

Last story. A fellow bookseller and I left the store late to take a cab back to our hotel. A taxi showed up and there was some confusion as to whether the taxi was for us or two other women. We decided to share, even though it turned out our hotels were nowhere near each other. But we wound up having a great talk with this mother and daughter, who were having a bonding weekend. Both Mitchell and the mom had attended UC (that's Colorado, I think) and there was some discussion of who looked comparatively younger than their age. And where did they go for the evening? A BookPeople bag filled with books was their souvenir of the trip. How could I argue with that?

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