Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Trip to New York for the Gift Show, a Walk Around Brooklyn, Including a Visit to Two Bookstores.

Some people think bookstore owners should go on vacations, but this summer, the only way I could convince myself to leave Milwaukee was by attending a gift show. Most of the good ones are in June or July, but that was really tough to pull off, as our event schedule was packed. I started checking around, and it turned out that the NYNOW show (formerly the New York International Gift Fair, the merger of two separate shows) had a pretty good reputation. In addition, it was pretty easy to get to, it was cooler than Las Vegas (my other option) and I could meet up with my sister Claudia after a trip visit to my mom in Massachusetts.

Pictured: the slate sidewalks of Brooklyn. Is this common anywhere else? I'm sure many New Yorkers take these for granted, but step back and take a long look. They are just beautiful.

From Massachusetts, we decided to drive to New Haven and take the train in. I know this is a bit of an aside regarding the core subjects of a bookstore blog, but we were simply overwhelmed by college students (and apparently, some post-college students who still worked at their schools, or so we gathered from overhearing their conversations). They were all dressed to party, mostly preppy, and just about every kid was carrying a six pack and drinking. When the conductor didn't bat an eye, we looked up the regulations and sure enough, it is perfectly legal to drink on the Metro North trains. Some of you probably read the ode to the bar car that recently closed in The New York Times. Our only question was...was it legal to drink on the train if you're not 21? Nobody was carded by the conductors. Maybe it's not their job.

So we thought they were all going into New York, but every last person in this standing room party on wheels got off at Stamford. I don't use the word "literally" literally, but it is called for in this case--well over 100 kids. A little more research and the only thing we could come up with was a Beach Boys concert. Really? Kids today...

Surprisingly enough, the train filled up again with a whole nother horde of kids, all just about five years older. They were very different--well dressed, quiet, and juggling paperwork and several electronic devices. Yes, this is the famous reverse commute of the Millennials that everyone is talking about. Twenty-something had jobs in the Stamford corridor and were commuting back to Manhattan and Brooklyn where the action is (and maybe living at the Ex Lax Building, as pictured). But why didn't they want to go to the Beach Boys concert?

As an aside, among this crowd, I didn't see a single physical book, but I saw many tablets and e-readers. But once we were riding around on the subway, we almost never saw an e-reader. I saw tons of Millennials riding the trains and they were all reading books. They were dressed in yet a third style, more like what I would see around my home neighborhood of Bay View, and they were much more likely to be showing their individually, perhaps with a tattoo (or a hundred) but often in other ways. I don't know what to make of this data? The way to not conform is to read physical books? If this is true, I like it.

Before the gift show started, Claudia and I spent a day together in the Lower East Side, where her husband's extended family grew up. Here's a shot of Katz's Deli, where my father used to stop by for a little wurst, as he called it. It's no longer in the Katz family, though if you want to visit a Katz-owned business, go to Mystery One in Milwaukee. I went to my favorite donut store on the planet, Doughnut Plant (sorry Top Pot, Voodoo, and the rest--until you do a carrot cake donut that oozes cream cheese frosting that's been infused to the center, there's really no competition), and Kossar's Bialies. We had a retro-modern meal at Russ and Daughters Cafe (enjoyed the fish chowder best), and a particularly delicious evening at Cafe Katja, where we argued about whether the cuisine was Austrian, Hungarian, or Austro-Hungarian. I particularly loved the cabbage salad, the beet salad (I sort of mooshed them together), and the spaetzle entree.

Because my sister hasn't explored Brooklyn much, I insisted we take a pilgrimage to the County of Kings, and hit up a couple of bookstores. In Park Slope, we stopped by Community Bookstore, which I hadn't visited in years. The bustling neighborhood was home to a couple of my friends post-college, and I've periodically gone back to visit, most notably with my parents years ago when we went to see my brother-in-law who was pictured in an exhibit about Jews in China. The store is long and narrow, and aims to be a true general bookstore in a compact space. Both booksellers were friendly in a way that New York booksellers used to not be, and I welcome the evolution. A sink indicated they might do food events, but I didn't ask. And outside was a small peaceful garden with a water feature. I wound up buying Claudia a copy of Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being. I know she'll love it.

Both my sisters read like crazy over the summer--I'm quite jealous. I gave Claudia a copy of the forthcoming David Liss novel, as I hadn't been able to find a taker among our booksellers. She said that she couldn't put down The Day of Atonement (on sale 9/23), a historical thriller set during Portugal's Inquisition. It reads like James Clavell, which sounds amazing.

Our next stop was Greenlight Bookstore. Unfortunately I sent us in the wrong direction down Atlantic Avenue, through the Arabic neighborhood, which reminded Claudia of the delicious dried fruit she had on an earlier trip (much earlier). In a way, this was fortuitous, as it led us to Betty Bakery in Boerum Hill, where we bought an assortment of palmiers, linzers, and rugelach. We savored them slowly for the rest of the weekend.

A turnaround led us back to the Barclays Center and to the Fort Greene neighborhood. That Atlantic Avenue and Flatbush intersection is a nightmare and needs to be addressed by urban planners. I felt like I was crossing a freeway on ramp in New Jersey. Pedestrians were definitely lower life forms than cars here. I thought former Mayor Bloomberg wasn't supposed to let that happen?

Usually when I visit I don't get to say hello to both owners, Jessica and Rebecca, but there they were. We browsed for a while, and then talked shop, about our favorite greeting cards and how the event series was going. The Barclays Center has not really disrupted the neighborhood as much as feared, and there's even been some spinoff business. Holy moly, at this time, there are still tickets to their David Mitchell event at St. Josephs's College. Buy your tix now--what an amazing opportunity--$30 including the book. I should note that I love this store to pieces. 

I had a mission here, to buy Jordan Ellenberg's How Not to Be Wrong, and was thrilled they had it. It turned out this purchase was also fortuitous, as even with a last minute reorder, we sold our last copy on hand the evening of Professor Ellenberg's event (for booksellers who are interested in this things, we had a 40% purchase rate for a free event on a book that was several months old, which is very high for a large event). Had I waited to buy my book at Boswell, I couldn't have gotten  my book signed, as I would have given up my copy to the customer who wanted one.What a great event, by the way, and I'm really enjoying reading the book--it's perfect for a math major who doesn't remember any math at all. Limit, what's a limit?

The show turned out to be great! Instead of the rep groups that usually represent lines at the Chicago shows, in many cases the vendors themselves showed. So I got to see our old friends who run Saturn Press (they visited Boswell years ago) and the designer behind Girl of All Work. I've already bought six lines--three brand new vendors, and three others that had new product at the show, and I have several other lines I'm excited about. I was particularly happy to see all the new Polish wooden boxes from M. Cornell--without a new catalog or website, the shows are the only way to pick up new product. Our customers love these boxes, and I'm thrilled that we'll have a whole bunch of new designs come September.

And what did I read during all this? That's for the next post.

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