Report on the Sacramento Book Fair

Jim Kay, promoter of the Sacramento Book Fair, runs a good show.  Unlike some “promoters,” he actually promotes the fair.  He gets a lot of notices on public radio.  He whips his exhibitors into shape with free passes.  They are abundant.  The food service, according to none other than Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association of America (ABAA) food and drink expert Taylor Bowie, is the best available at any book fair.  I can attest that the chocolate chip cookies are fabulous.  The Scottish Rite Temple venue is a good one.  Both booths and aisles are spacious.  Load in and out is without problem.  Lighting can be an issue depending on whether fellow exhibitors agree to close the curtains (good) or leave them open (bad).

Kay gets quality exhibitors, including many ABAA members.  Dave Meeker of Nick Adams & Co. was there, along with Vic Zoschak of Tavistock Books, Chris Lowenstein of Book Hunter’s Holiday, Steve Blackmer of Chanticleer Books, Bud Plant, Carl Blomgren, James Bryant and Mary Hill of Carpe Diem, Michael Good, and yours truly from Northern California.  There were at least two out-of-state ABAA exhibitors.  I call him Superman, but you might know him as Ken Sanders.  He came from Utah.   Robert Gavora came from Oregon.  Southern California ABAA members who exhibited included poker expert Brad Johnson of The Book Shop, Greg Krisilas of Coconut Rose Rare Books, Jim Graham, John Howell, and Elizabeth Svendsen of Walkabout Books who must have moved to SoCal from Ohio when I wasn’t looking.

There was a Richard Press and a Joyce Muns sighting among non-exhibitors there to shop sporting their ABAA credentials.  Unfortunately, there were no San Francisco ABAA members who exhibited or shopped.  C’mon guys, it’s not that far.

My apologies if I missed listing any other ABAA members who exhibited or who came to shop.

You’re waiting for the other shoe to drop, aren’t you?  Here comes.  It’s a crummy fair, I am sorry to report, when it comes to the bottom line.  There were a lot of long faces, distressed at their lack of sales.  Superman, I mean Ken Sanders, reported sales that met expectations, and he bought well.  Since he bought well from Carl Blomgren, Carl is probably a happy camper.  I sold one book for $45.  Nearly got the collar, to use a baseball metaphor, but then I really do the fair as an excuse to visit my cousin, Doug Dourgarian, and his lovely wife, Vlasta, who live in nearby Gold River.  When I started exhibiting at the Sacramento fair, I visited them as an adjunct to the fair.  Now I visit them and do the fair as an adjunct to my visit.  But still, one lousy book?  $45?  I did buy two books, one for $24 and one for $525, and while I am happy with those purchases, I an generally unhappy with the fair, despite Jim Kay’s good efforts.

So, what’s the problem?  Sacramento.  To quote one ABAA member who knows the territory, it’s still a cow town.  The buying public, while large in numbers nearly through the duration of this one-day fair, doesn’t spend money.  Have you heard the phrase that it’s more of a show than a sale?  That certainly applies to Sacramento.  While I saw a lot of attendees, few of them were packing bags with books tucked under the arms.  I asked Jim Graham how he was doing, to which he replied that he had thus far sold 19 books.  Wow, I replied, that’s 18 more than me, to which he replied, “Yeah, but 17 of them were $5 books.”   Hmmm.  And there was no exhibitor or buying angel there from Bauman’s or any of the Harringtons from Yolly Old England spreading their cheer.  And none of us brought bottles of whisky to dull our pain.  I stopped adding a showcase to my booth because there are so few (any?) high-end sales.  I wonder why Dave Meeker brings all those expensive showcase books.  Some have suggested it’s to display the quality of his books so that potential sellers visiting the fair will sell their collections to him.  I have heard there is more than one exhibitor who is there far, far more to buy books than to sell.  There are indeed more reasons to exhibit at any fair other than our bottom line, but I still think that is the prevalent component.  It is clear than on that basis that Sacramento’s book collectors failed us more than we failed them.

Will I exhibit again?  Good question.  In six months, when it’s time for the next fair in Sacramento, I may have forgotten the pain from the paucity of patronage, and I may smile at the prospect of another visit to Doug and Casa de Vlasta, but for how long can I continue to lose money without my deciding that a visit to Sacramento would indeed be most pleasant, but exhibiting at the Sacramento Book Fair would not.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Report on the Sacramento Book Fair

  1. Jim,
    I read your blog regarding the Sacramento Book Fair and was not surprised of the sad response in terms of sales since that has been the experience of booksellers in past years. My article in AB Bookman’s Weekly that appeared in 1989 showed a different era but like a flower that blooms for a season it has faded. Herb Caplan played a major role in changing the dismal picture in terms of promoting serious rare books and ephemera but clearly there is a provincialism in Sacramento that has not changed significantly. Perhaps this is why the San Francisco booksellers do not see the point of the trip. My decade there was a wonderful time in my life but it was punctuated my trips to San Francisco to see Monk, Coltrane, Lenny Bruce, and others in the Winterland, Fillmore West, Avalon ballrooms.

    If you would like a copy of the article I can send you a photocopy.

    Richard of Alcuin, Third Earl of Scottsdale

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