Old friend Tucker Respess, having fun
At least according to our jovial lobby guard who, as were remarking on the comfortable surroundings and interesting architectural features of our new venue in the Sphinx Club volunteered, “Oh, yes, this place is the fun house of Masons.”
I’d say most of us had fun at this, the 42nd edition of the Washington Book Fair – (Gasp! Can it have been that long?) – an event that began as a school fund raiser and eventually became a Washington institution. And, when the Concord School ceased their sponsorship, a brave promoter named Beth Campbell endeavored to steer this event through the murky, roiling waters of… oh enough with the metaphors.
Ten Pound Island’s pristine booth, its tranquility scarcely troubled by a sale
For years, Beth soldiered away, managing this fair for the Concord school. Then she bought the rights to the event and and has been running it on her own hook. Her fiscal investment is mirrored in her emotional and physical involvement. She works hard to make this a successful show, and she really cares about how we dealers experience it.
This year the show faced several hurdles. It had moved to a new location in an area where traffic and parking presented significant barriers. Also, because of the new location there was considerable doubt about attendance. Book buyers tend to be creatures of habit. Would they turn out for this event in its new home? And would the new home be adequate for the exhibitors?
Unlike the spacious center aisle
side aisles were rather cramped
Happily, the answer to both questions was “Yes.” Despite a challenging floor plan, Beth crafted an arrangement that accommodated nearly 70 exhibitors. The starboard aisle, in particular, was somewhat claustrophobic, and the lighting left something to be desired, with black holes lurking in many corners. But these were easily fixable problems. Visitors seemed to circulate naturally on both the upper and lower levels (did I mention the challenging floor plan?),
and a few of them even found their ways to a potential Black Hole beneath the central stairway, where four exhibitors languished.
Next year, maybe Beth could put the typewriter rodeo (now a book fair fixture, they type poems on demand for book-collecting poetry lovers) in the hole behind the stairs.
I think she’s getting ready to type a poem about a kitten
Dan Gaetta, of John Bale Book Company, buried smack in the middle of said hole pronounced the fair, “An excellent effort for the first year,” which seemed to be the general consensus. Most of the people I talked to had good, or at least acceptable, results. Most of us approved of the venue, liked the location, and were pleasantly surprised by the crowd.
Which, despite a threatened Metro strike and competition from the People’s Climate March, exceeded everyone’s rosiest expectations. Opening night was better attended this year than any in the recent past, and the crowds remained strong throughout Saturday.
Truth to tell, I don’t know what’s going on with these book fairs. New York was terrific. The Ephemera Society show was healthier than ever. The Florida book fair got rave reviews, and even the little Boston Spring Book Fair was bursting with attendees. The sample size is too small to draw any firm conclusions, but it might be possible that book fairs, for whatever reason, are enjoying a Renaissance. Time will tell.
I don’t want to end this report on a negative note, so I’ll end it on a negative with a positive upswing.
As every dealer knows, auction houses are the enemy. They compete for customers and books, and they have managed to create the impression, manifestly false, that the auction process is the most honest and transparent way to buy and sell books.
Well, somehow, a local auction gallery found its way onto the floor.
Not only that, they were situated at the elevator doors, so that they were the first booth encountered by visitors. When informed of the fundamental wrongness of an auction house in a room full of book dealers (might as well put a fox in a henhouse), Beth went white with horror. She assured me she hadn’t been aware of the fact that auction houses were anathema in our trade. I assured her in return that the oversight was just a blip in the long learning curve that each of us in the trade – whether dealer or promoter – must go through.
I’m pretty certain there will be a Washington Book Fair next year, that it will be well attended, and that no auction houses will be among the exhibitors. (Or that they’ll be situated in the Black Hole beneath the stairs, hemmed in and drowned out by clacking typewriter rodeo riders.)
Beth Campbell pays attention to feedback from her dealers. In the long run that may be the key to her success, and to the success of this fair.