On Saturday, May 3, 93 stores representing 80 of our state’s zip codes will celebrate the first California Bookstore Day with parties that include everything from readings and signings to cocktail hours, food trucks, and music. Each store will also offer up to thirteen unique items created exclusively for the day.

CA Bookstore Day logoModeled on Record Store Day after Green Apple Books and RecordsPete Mulvihill noticed last year’s steep increase in sales and wondered why there isn’t a bookstore day, May 3 marks a first-of-its-kind collaboration between publishers, authors, and bookstores.

“Part of the reason to do this now I think is that stores can,” Mulvihill said by phone. “Five years ago this would have never gotten anywhere because people were just struggling to make payroll, or pay the rent. But indie bookstores have really not just survived but thrived, in the last few years.”

Recently named Publishers Weekly’s Bookstore of the Year, Green Apple just announced it’s opening a second store – a partnership with Le Video, and their first opening since the flagship was founded in 1967.

Mulvihill, who serves on the board of The Northern California Independent Booksellers Association, received enthusiastic support from that organization. But they didn’t have the resources to make the idea a reality. DeLillo stencilMulvihill’s wife, the writer and editor Samantha Schoech, took on the job of producing, doing everything from a logo contest to an Indiegogo campaign, and even becoming a publisher to create some of the unique items, which include a full-color, 68-page book of Lisa Brown’s 3-panel book reviews and a wooden graffiti stencil featuring a quote by Don DeLillo – for which they sourced their own wood.

“I ended up doing all sorts of crazy stuff that I never thought would be part of the job description,” Schoech said by phone. “But it ended up being really fun.”

This might be applied to independent bookselling in general. Christin Evans, who with her husband Praveen Madan has revitalized The Booksmith since taking over seven years ago, and has played an instrumental part in reinventing Kepler’s Books (the largest independent in Silicon Valley), says each store is different and requires its own unique model. They’ve created and nurtured so many distinct ongoing events that they need a full-time staff member to oversee them; this makes three people in charge of events at each store.

3-panel final cover“In San Francisco we’re blessed with so many small independent bookstores, but you go outside of the city and Amazon and the chain stores dominate people’s consciousness,” she said by phone, adding that California Bookstore Day “gives people a chance to pause, and, as consumers, to recognize the choices they’re making.”

The Booksmith is taking the chance to reach out to and partner with their new neighbors; anyone who purchases one of the CBD items is invited to a complimentary wine tasting at Sparrow Bar and Kitchen, which opened beside them about a year ago.

Andy Bellows, store manager of City Lights, said Saturday is generally so busy they had to decide if the event would help or hurt business. “That was a unique conversation we had to have: are we too busy; is that not a good day for us?”

He laughed, adding that this was before they understood the scope of the project. In any case, Bellows praised Green Apple for being on the forefront of the publishing industry. “They always keep us in the fold,” he said. “They let us know what they’re doing, and we’re always happy to help.”

Hut Landon, executive director of the NCIBA, said, “any publisher will tell you this region is the strongest independent bookstore market in the country. We don’t have better stores than other areas, but we do have more good stores within 50 miles of each other than anywhere else. The booksellers see each other at publisher dinners, NCIBA events, and each other’s stores—there is a strong sense of community here that is geographically enhanced and fueled by a shared proactive spirit.”

click to find the participating bookstore closest to you

click to find the participating bookstore closest to you

“I don’t know that another state could have pulled this off quite the same way,” Schoech said, noting that every author they reached out to said yes without hesitation. “We just wanted the items to be cool, but we did end up with a lot of specifically California stuff, and the reaction we’ve gotten has been one of pride.”

Landon says that bookstores from around the country have expressed interest in participating, and have requested that the American Booksellers Association make the event national next year. He’s quick to point out that, if that were to happen, the ABA could be managing up to ten times the amount of stores participating in this year’s event and that “they are offering so many extraordinary programs and benefits for their members—to take on a national bookstore day without impacting what they now offer would be a challenge.”

But the ABA, along with booksellers across the country, will be paying close attention to what happens in California this Saturday.

Landon is optimistic. “This is the time to celebrate,” he says. “Everyone is really jazzed. The stores are only worried they may have under-ordered some of the CBD books and art pieces. Publishers that created one-of-a-kind items for the event are very pleased. And authors are either excited or want to know why they weren’t given an opportunity to contribute something. Wait ’til next year.”

Evan Karp @ FeatherboardEvan Karp writes columns for the San Francisco ChronicleSF Weekly, and SF Arts. He is the founder and executive director of Quiet Lightning, the founding editor of Litseen, and the creator and host of The Emerald Tablet’s Under the Influence series.

A shorter version of this article first appeared in
The San Francisco Chronicle.