Notes from the Field
Southeast rep Alex Beguin braves the wintry cold of Western NY and lives to tell about it. Special bonus road mix-tape inside!
On a recent trip to Western New York (yes, I traveled there in February), I learned about the resilience and optimism that still lies in the book business. The mantra of sales recently is “flat is the new up, slightly down is the new flat.” Although most stores have had to shift their buying methods, most stores have done well given the struggling economy.
I arrive at Syracuse University around 10:30 a.m. to a clear, yet brisk Wednesday morning. I meet with the Leah Delenka, new trade buyer at the Syracuse University Bookstore, who has made the transition over from the textbook department with ease. This is helpful since the staff has frequent meetings with professors about course books and the store has a big section dedicated to Faculty Authors.
After a quick cup of coffee, I get onto Route 81 and head to Ithaca. On the way, I play the mix cd specifically for this trip, heading into the wind with my rental car shifting from side to side. The mix starts with Arcade Fire and ends with Bob Dylan:
- Keep The Car Running (Arcade Fire)
- Hold On I’m Comin’ (Sam & Dave)
- Furr (Bitzen Trapper)
- Roadrunner (The Modern Lovers)
- Far, Far Away (Wilco)
- Use It (New Pornographers)
- Flume (Bon Iver)
- In This City (Enon)
- Please Visit Your National Parks (Oxford Collapse)
- Location Temporary (Mirah)
- This Road I’m Traveling (Mojave 3)
- Chelsea Hotel No. 2 (Laura Burhenn)
- Scenic World (Beirut)
- Blue Ridge Mountains (Fleet Foxes)
- You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go (Bob Dylan)
I arrive in Ithaca around 1:30 p.m. and travel along Campus Road for my meeting at Cornell Store. I always enjoy visiting with Michael Goode, the book buyer, whose enthusiasm for the new titles is always evident through our meetings and the Cambridge books that line the tables and shelves. The most exciting news at the store is they have hired a new marketing person, Leann Fecho, who came over from Follett’s. She has new ideas for the store displays and their current Darwinian one which includes The Beagle Letters, Origins, and Evolution is excellent. I also notice the New University Titles table which features the new paperback book Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy prominently at the front of the store.
After leaving the store, I head down the hill to The Bookery II, a nice, cozy independent bookstore that has survived amidst many bookstore closings within the city. The book buyer, Gary Weissbrot, mentions that there used to be 10 bookstores and now they are the only one downtown. The store, the host of many events, continues to be a great neighborhood stop for customers.
Consistent with most accounts, one of the main titles that we talk about is The Cambridge Companion to Bob Dylan. The impressive list of contributors: author Jonathan Lethem, Sleater Kinney’s guitarist/singer Carrie Brownstein (also a blogger for NPR’s Monitor Mix), and music critic Anthony DeCurtis makes this exciting to buyers. This is not one to be missed!
The last day is spent in Buffalo and the snow and wind are definitely starting to pick up. The streets are coated with freshly fallen snow with no signs of letting up. Talking Leaves, open since 1971, has remained the most popular independent bookstore in Buffalo, a gathering spot for students and town folk. Jonathan Welch, the co-founder and head book buyer, continues to have stacks of great books from each corner of their store. They sell both trade and text books in their store and what continues to impress me are certain sections that grow each time. Their poetry section, which includes last season’s The Cambridge Companion to British Romantic Poetry, continues to be one of the biggest and impressive poetry sections of any store I visit.
After another nice visit, I bundle up and leave the store and head for the airport. I sit in the exit row of a small plane, watching the crew de-ice the wings, ready for the trip back home.