report from the front – Decatur Book Festival '06

September 3 – Atlanta. The Decatur Book Festival sponsored by, among others, “the Atlanta Constitution” (newspaper). This fair has been in decline in recent years, like most all fairs, but this year the powerhouse “Constitution” has taken over sponsorship. Expecting 100,000 to show. Booths outside for book events, antiquarian fair inside in a ballroom, 100 “world-class authors” signing, etc.

I was just hoping for a sale or two from my meager holdings. This fair is the same weekend as the Baltimore book fair. Since I just moved south, to Florida, from Washington State, I thought I would try it. I purchased 6 folding bookcases, and the first thing I did was purchasing some strips of foam to put between them for the ride north to Atlanta. I did not want the shelves to sound like my bones, rattling around, for 360 miles (one way). That solved, I packed my vehicle with empty boxes, and the folding shelves, to see what load would be possible. Next, I set the fair up, in a hallway here in the house, and then packed backwards (from W). But first I pulled books forward on the library shelves, an inch or two, I planned on taking to Atlanta. I start this process early, so I have a week or two to constantly preview what I plan on bringing. I also plan on servicing my vehicle; to do everything I can to insure a safe, easy trip.

We rolled out near Jacksonville, Florida at 7am and arrived in Decatur, at the fair site, at 1pm. I parked in the hotel garage, checked in, and walked out into town. The town square was only a block away and it was a beauty, complete with an old civil war cannon and beautiful old buildings, with near life-size bronze figures on a bench, waiting. Then a rainstorm came and I had to purchase an umbrella to get back to the hotel (remember that Otis Redding song about rain in Georgia?) The next day was setup, and, frankly, it could not have been smoother. Jim McMeans was responsible for things running smoothly and they did.

The fair opened that Friday night at 6pm and ran until 9. All 42 dealers were ready, and we are all surprised by the turnout. They kept coming. The Festival had announced over 100 authors including Michael Connelly, Nick Basbanes, Robert Olen Butler, Diana Gabaldon, Edward P. Jones, just to name a very few. The crowds were steady and increased during Saturday and even Sunday (and even at closing time).

A wonderful setting, the Decatur Square, since it had the light rail coming into the square to beat that bad Atlanta traffic. You could jump on the train anyplace in Atlanta and step off the train in downtown Decatur in 11-13 minutes.

Did I sell any books? Yes, I did. I did more than double what I thought I might do. Amazing for a book fair in a new location, a bookfair that has been in a steady decline for 5 or 6 years. One customer purchased a nice Hemingway first edition as well as a fine copy of Thornton Wilder’s Bridge at San Luis Rey, another came away with a book signed by Ed Abbey and R. Crumb and a signed Neil Young. Yet another purchased an as new copy of Ernest Gaines’ Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman and James Baldwin’s Amen Corner. A sharp eyed buyer snared a fine copy, in a fine dust jacket of the Rackham illustrated Sleeping Beauty (Heinemann, 1920), Several signed photo books found new homes, along with 14 other books. I even successfully pulled off a nice trade with another dealer involving 9 books, a good trade for both of us.

Did all dealers do well? It was hard to tell, but lots were happy. At fair’s end, I certainly signed up again for next year. The only squawk that was heard was some crying and whining, and we all looked around to see who the culprit was, and it turned out to be a baby in a stroller (being denied a nice Faulkner), instead of a bookseller! Sunday night I packed up and helped a fellow dealer pack up then strolled downtown for a repeat performance of a huge burrito I consumed the first night in town. Early Monday morning I rolled out of Decatur and headed home, happy as a clam.

I can understand why the state song is “Georgia On My Mind.” This fair at this location has a great future. All over Atlanta people are interested in books and they turned out, big time, at the Decatur Book Festival. As nice a crowd at a fair as I can remember. There were also long lines at all the signings, it was full up also at all of the interactive children’s activities, as well as the live music and poetry, along with cooking demonstrations, and, to top it all off, on Sunday night at dark, a huge fireworks extravaganza. Even a local bookstore, on Saturday night, offered dealers to stop by, for a 30% discount. The only downside, I could imagine, was I played a $5 mega millions ticket ($83 million) and did not win! After all, that would have been too much to ask….even for me. Next year I hope to see you all at the Decatur Book Festival.

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