report from the front – Ed @ St Pete

St. Petersburg Book Fair, a Report.

I got an email asking ‘which’ St. Petersburg? The emailer said the difference is only 80 degrees! Florida, of course. Since I moved east I was lucky enough to be able to set up at this book fair Sponsored by the Florida Antiquarian Booksellers Association. March 9-11. I had heard this phrase over and over: “It is well run…..It is well run,” etc. And, I found out first hand.

This was the 26th year for this fair, and the 16th year it has been run by Larry Kellogg. How well run was it? Larry came around, with his clipboard, inquiring if each booksellers’ sign needed improvement! Larry does all the little things like special Cuban sandwiches (take out that was ordered and brought in), what time and when and where and how, there was no such thing as a ‘problem,’ he is a ball of energy, focused, businesslike, friendly, and this is what he does: “GET-R-DONE.” No if’s ands or buts. Even the $10 opening day tickets (good for the run of the show) were available at TICKETMASTER. His steady hand allows all the booksellers to relax.

Dennis Melhouse (First Folio) told me that this fair is the “Spring Break for Booksellers.” And Larry (Booklegger’s, Chicago) brought his bicycle in his van and each morning and evening he would ride it for hours. In fact, as I waited to enter the building for setup on Friday, Larry rode by on his bike, at 7am, with 6 books gleaned from early yard sales.

Listen, this fair is laid back. Weather was 80 and sunny the whole weekend (but the air-conditioned hall was exact). Only odd sight I could see was the pasty white legs of some northern booksellers who were wearing shorts! The fair had approx 117 booksellers, and the venue, The Coliseum, an older stucco building, was made for a book fair, complete with concession stand selling drinks and corndogs and candy, a sound system, a foyer for the free table, a ticket booth, rest rooms, and plenty of loading ramps all around, etc.

Setup was 7am on Friday, opening at 5:30-9:30, Saturday 9-5 and Sunday 10-4 (nice). Porters were on hand to help, and, there was no frenzy or anxiety, which was refreshing.

I was in booth #39, the second booth on the right from the entrance. Across the aisle from me was Royal Books (Baltimore) and Undercover Books (Marshall, VA). It was my pleasure to have this location. Kevin Johnson, Royal Books, and fellow ABAA member was a joy to swap stories with. And, now that James Brown, the Godfather of Soul, is gone, Kevin could be considered for ‘The Hardest Working Man in Show Business!” And Rick Stoutamyer, Undercover Books, was the epitome of the polite, cool, calm and collected southern gentleman bookseller who ran his booth with ease and made it look easy, a kind word for everyone, smarts about books, and the manners that only a true southerner has. I hope some of their elan rubbed off on me.

The crowd was good all three days and, for the most part, all the dealers were happy. Maybe more than happy. Mike Slicker (Lighthouse Books) had a great item in his front glass case; a shotgun, a two page letter about said shotgun from Pat Conroy, and a love story! Larger alcoves ran down each side of the venue that added a ‘bookstore quality’ to the fair. I found some things to buy, and, judging from my invoices, many of the dealers purchased much more than normal.

I spotted Peter Stern (Boston) driving a huge Mercedes truck (borrowed from another booksellers), I saw Natalie Bauman on the hunt for those great items, I saw Tom C (Between the Covers) holding forth, and, I saw the great bookman Wally Gebhard, in the flesh, as well as Thomas Dorn, and, as I was coming around a corner and into an alcove during setup, I got stopped in my tracks when I came face-to-face with Hunter S. Thompson, or…so I thought. It turned out to be Chan Gordon (Captain’s Bookshelf), or so he claimed. It sure looked like Hunter though.

So in March, 2008 plan on coming down to St. Petersburg and doing the “Spring Break for Booksellers.”

– Ed.
Ed Smith Books, ABAA

Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida

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