What I found at the “Festival”
This weekend I went to Elizabeth City, which is about, about 45 minutes away from my hometown, to attend a Literary and Arts Festival. It was suggested on my Facebook feed, and I decided to go check it out without seeking any information other than what I found on Facebook. I didn’t expect anything huge; I know this is a small city. But I did expect a bit of a festival atmosphere with a group of artists and authors. I assumed that they had added the “artistic” component to the festival to both boost attendance and the number of participants that they had.
I have to say that the event was a disappointment. I actually drove right past the bookstore as they had almost nothing going on outside. The bookstore was rather small, and the entire event was inside. It wasn’t a great day to be outside as the store was located just across the street from open water, and the day was pretty windy, but given the absence of signs, I suspect that they had never planned to be outside. There was an artist selling some paintings by the seawall outside, but it was unclear to me whether that was associated with the bookstore or not (I don’t think it was).
I really don’t know what was going on; the whole thing seemed pretty casual. There were some donut holes and tea for refreshments, but the store didn’t really set up a refreshment table; it looked like the owner/clerk just sat them down when she walked in. Even the vendors started leaving the shop about two hours before the event was supposed to end. I was given to believe that a “crowd” had been there earlier; I don’t know. I didn’t arrive right at the opening time because I thought it would take a while to get going, and then I supposedly missed it? I’m not sure.
Inside, the bookstore was in regular operation, and the vendors/visiting authors were crowded in. I talked to a high school student who was selling jewelry that he makes himself from seashells, another woman who was doing free readings, and an author. To be honest, if I had not enjoyed the drive and had wanted to see the bookstore anyway, I would have been really disappointed. I know this city is small, so I didn’t expect a huge event, but I thought there would be a bit more, especially considering that this time of year, in early October, there seems to be an event on every street corner. It’s that time of year, where it’s finally cool enough to want to be outside (in southeastern Virginia) so every organization with a little space is having a festival, flea market or a craft fair. From the signs I saw at this event, the locality has a monthly market, so I’m a little surprised they didn’t combine.
Anyway, my advice from this experience, if you haven’t discovered this on your own, is vet the announcements you see on Facebook carefully. I deliberately do not call the venues that I am visiting, because I want to go as a visitor, but if I were not doing this for a specific reason, I would definitely check.
On the whole, while I enjoyed my visit, I do hope they do a slightly better job with their next event!
To answer my question: in the future, I would probably not drive so far for an event unless I were able to find more supporting information about it to let me know it’s worth my drive. The whole city was absolutely dead: I decided I wanted to get some local food while I was there, either BBQ or seafood, and I couldn’t find anything open on a Saturday afternoon. As a part of a bigger outing though, yes, I would definitely stop by this store again.
The plot of You’ve Got Mail centers on early online dating (remember AOL?), but the big tension in the story is the clash between a large, chain bookstore and an indie.
I met Deanna K. Klingel at Page After Page. I nearly bought a copy of this book because of the beautiful drawings of birds found in Virginia and North Carolina. This book is perfect for some backyard birdwatching with a child. She started writing children’s books after her seven children were grown. The Beth series replicated the “Backyard Science” she enjoyed with her own kids.
The Magic Treehouse series is a classic for children who are ready for their first chapter books. Pairing nonfiction titles with fiction makes them even more fun!
“Page after Page” Bookstore in Elizabeth City, North Carolina
Although I was disappointed by the festival, I did quite enjoy was visiting the bookstore itself. I have long been aware of the battle between the independent bookstores, Barnes & Noble, and online shopping. I know the common line supporting independent bookstores is that bookstores give outstanding service. I have never understood this point of view, but now that I think about it, I am not a typical book shopper. Really, I am a book slut. I always have stacks of books around that I am perusing and long lists of books everywhere. The number of samples on my Kindle is ridiculous. So the very thing that small bookstores are supposed to be helping with are the one thing that I don’t really need help with. The problem for me too is that the books are all full price. I read quickly, and a big issue in my life is financing my habit. And now that we carry full access to the Internet around in the palm of our hands, where we can easily price check…yikes, that’s not good.
But for normal people, who I will characterize as book ladies and gentlemen, I can see the advantage of a bookstore such as this one, when it’s in a good location and is thoughtfully curated to match its clientele. What I found here is a small but interesting selection of books for adults, young adults, and children. The young adult section had some books interesting to full-fledged adults (if any of your are out there lol). The adult section had a good selection of fiction that in my opinion hit a good range in between too low-brow and too literate. I really like nonfiction, but in a large store the selection can be overwhelming. In an independent, you will find a manageable selection of books meant for someone who reads for fun.
The children’s section was good in that it featured books for all ages of readers (and levels) rather than books that are really for adults but in picture book form. I always particularly look for early chapter books, and this store was up to date with series I didn’t know about yet, and is especially good with easy-to-read nonfiction. There was also a really nice range of low-technology, high imagination toys.
My favorite aspect of this store, and what I would purchase in the future, are the small print run local titles. This part of North Carolina has a fascinating history that goes all the way back to the very first English colony in Roanoke, the one England carelessly lost! Did you know about that? Then they had pirates, the first manned flight at Kitty Hawk, and the list goes on….
Not to mention nearby Southeastern Virginia, my home.
I think the thing that I personally struggle with small, independent bookstores is that I feel that the entertainment I get from browsing them is not equal to the amount I spend in them, which is very little. I can’t really afford it with the amount that I read, and I definitely do not get suggestions from the staff; in many cases, I know more than they do. I have pretty much always chosen my own books since I was a child. Now that I think about it though, I don’t really feel the same about browsing in other stores, but then again I avoid shopping “for fun” in anything but book stores because it results in a cumulative waste of time.
But for this location, what is in the store is probably great. It’s right next to a small public marina where pleasure boats pull in, and it’s also right down the street (less than a block) from the area’s main museum. If you are spending days on a boat, you probably are very happy to find a bookstore right on the waterfront (no shore transportation needed) where you can buy a book or two for reading on your trip. If I lived in the area, I would also bring my children into this store and let them buy a book every so often. Given the choice, I actually prefer this shop to a big chain bookstore, and the prices are the same (unless you buy the expensive annual discount card at the big store). This store does not carry the overpriced/iffy quality character books and other junk that distract kids in the bigger bookstores.
This shop is also right down the street from a museum, so it’s easy to combine trips. This bookstore might be easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention when you arrive; what I learned from this visit is to check Google if you are going to a museum and you see shops nearby.
If you are a minimal to moderate reader, and typically go to the big chains, I would suggest giving an independent a try. They might feel intimidating at first because the sales staff is going to be more hands on, but just tell them you want to browse. They are all book people, so they get that. Also, they have really done a lot of the work of helping you in advance by the stock they choose to carry. A big chain bookstore does alter its stock some from store to store for its clientele, but they fill up a lot of their retail space with big orders of the books you can get anywhere, the very blockbusters that are going to also have the biggest discounts online. In addition, the staff at the counter at a chain store doesn’t have anything to do with what the store carries, whereas the staff at a smaller store is going to know the merchandise better and probably does have input into what stock is carried.
If you prefer to shop alone, say something like this to show your appreciation of the staff: “I like to browse here because this store always has such interesting titles. I like what you carry.” But if there is something specific you have questions about, say children’s books or something, they will probably give you a better answer than the staff in a larger store.
So I’m really starting to get the independent bookseller thing. And if you are book lady/gentleman, who chooses carefully and reads within reason, rather than a book slut like me, this is a good option. There isn’t nearly as much to weed through.