A couple of weekends ago I found myself in Richmond, Virginia, in the novel (to me) role of co-organizer of a small (40 dealers), regional (Richmond, Virginia – Capitol of the Confederacy!) bookfair. The smart money says such fairs are a thing of the past – victims of high rents, changing fashions, and growing consumer apathy. Nonetheless, there I stood, in the grand foyer of The Library of Virginia, with a box of nametags in one hand and a map to the show floor in the other. It was a little before eight in the morning; dealers were supposed to start arriving in an hour, and I’d never done this before. No one had – this was the first-ever Library of Virginia Book Fair, invented from whole cloth by my colleagues of the Virginia Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association and our friends at the Library of Virginia Foundation. It was to be our grand experiment. No one knew if it would work. It probably wouldn’t. But at the very least I would get the nametags distributed. I was damned if anyone was going to blame the failure of this thing on me.
Looking around, I was greeted by the disconcerting sight of several dozen homeless guys milling in the lobby – their customary hang-out on weekday mornings, we’d been told. If the sight struck me as inauspicious (it crossed my mind briefly that these guys could turn out to be our only customers), to be fair they didn’t look terribly happy to see me, either. In any case, once the library opened its stacks at nine o’clock, they all magically dispersed to their chosen sleeping sections upstairs. One or two drifted down during the course of set-up on Friday to see what was going on, and one other made a slight nuisance of herself during the fair on Saturday, but in general they were a reticent and well-behaved bunch (though they proved quite gregarious when encountered in the confines of their social headquarters, the men’s room).
In the end, the nametags got distributed, people showed up, and the fair, for a first-time event, was a success on just about every level. Logistically, thanks to a crack porterage team and careful planning by Nick Cooke, the show was a breeze: load-in and load-out went without a hitch. The space was magnificent, the mix of dealers (nearly all from Virginia, but with a few last-minute additions from as far away as New York, Vermont, and Montreal) was productive, and our hosts at the Library of Virginia were by turns generous, competent, and patient as situations required. They also put out a very nice spread for the opening night reception. Security, which had been a concern, turned out not to be a concern.
A special effort was made to encourage attendance by Special Collections librarians from around the region, and I’m happy to say that nearly every major institution in the state was represented by at least one librarian, to the great benefit of those exhibitors who had good Virginia material to sell. My informal poll of the exhibitors on Saturday afternoon suggests that nearly all made some money, and that a few did very well indeed. No one expressed outright disappointment, and everyone I spoke to suggested they’d be back next year if the opportunity presented itself. As for me, I sold one fifty dollar book – one more than I expected – but I did have the singular pleasure of handing my two most recent catalogs to Virginia’s former Republican governor Jim Gilmore and saying (with a fairly straight face): “Have a look at these, Governor. They’re all about the First Amendment.” Alas, I didn’t think quickly enough to snap a picture of him holding my most recent offering, “Death To The Fascist Insect That Preys On The Life Of The People.” There goes my dream of blackmailing a prominent Virginia Republican into a surprise Obama endorsement.
Thanks to all the exhibitors who bucked the trend against regional affairs to attend this inaugural event – forty of them, all together, including a number of ABAA members. Thanks are especially due to the members of our informal organizing committee, which included several ABAA members besides myself – Nick and Ellen Cooke, John Curtis, Mary Gilliam, Jim Presgraves, and Tennyson Williams (not an ABAA member, but current President of the Virginia Antiquarian Booksellers Association). Thanks also to Tyler Potterfield and Marta Powers, our head porters; and to Tom Camden, Curator of Rare Books for the Library of Virginia, John Thielbar, the facilities manager, and to Mary Beth McIntyre of the Library of Virginia Foundation, who all worked long and ably to make the event a success.
BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE…
In two days, I’ll be setting sail with my friend and colleague Brian Cassidy for an excellent adventure in The ‘Van, through the West Virginia hills to Pittsburgh, along the rust belt to Cleveland, Detroit and finally Ann Arbor, where we’ll both be exhibiting at the Ann Arbor Book Fair – now in its 35th year and one of the longest-running book fairs in the Midwest! No trip to Ann Arbor would be complete without a visit to the redoubtable Garrett Scott (bookseller to the weirdly famous), or to the University of Michigan’s Labadie Collection, the largest (and best-curated, thanks to the wonderful Julie Herrada) collection of anarchist literature in North America, or to Zingerman’s Deli, the only openly anarchist Jewish deli in America, owned and operated by the visionary philosopher-poet-chef Ari Weinzweig. It promises to be a mind-altering (if not budget-balancing) trip through some of my favorite places to see some of my favorite people, and I promise to blog it well (if Brian will just remind me to take some damn pictures).