By Greg Gibson
One of the most anticipated features of the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair is free lunch for dealers at setup on Thursday. Indeed, in a city where even "free" costs an arm and a leg, Thursday afternoon's catered meal attracts booksellers from across America and Europe. Turkey, roast beef, veggie wraps... Hell, they even have bottled water!
But not this year.
At approximately 11:30 am, as dealers – particularly those on European time – began making growling noises, a sign appeared outside the show office announcing that lunch had been cancelled.
Asked about the reason for the cancellation, show promoter Sandy Smith said, "There was a major traffic jam on the BQE. You can look it up. The sandwiches never made it here." As far as plans for a make-up lunch were concerned, Smith quipped. "Ain't happening. Get used to it. Won't happen next year, either." Is Smith predicting another "major traffic jam" on the BQE in 2015? Sure sounds that way. And where did all those sandwiches wind up? An avalanche of turkey wraps on the Tillary St. Exit? Dog ate my lunch? Stay tuned.
This is just the latest example of the ways in which economic imperatives impact this convenient but creaky venue. New York is where the money is, babycakes. And more and more dealers want to be here.
ABAA book fair czar Don Heald and his staff have been working hard to accommodate them all, but at the end of the day compromises must be made. New, smaller sized booths were recently introduced, which made it possible for a greater number of dealers to have space to themselves. Still, some dealers were forced to share booth spaces (this is done by lottery, not seniority or favoritism), and a few dealers were wait-listed.
Physical hardships have increased. The dining area at the back of the hall is a third of its former size.
The tables are always filled, and weary fair goers circle the area like drivers looking for parking spots. Aisle widths have been reduced to the point where there is no room for chairs. Wheelchairs, god forbid, occasion traffic jams that rival the now-legenday sandwich smash on the BQE. And with so many booths reduced in size or shared, sit-down space conflicts with customer browsing room. As is the case everywhere else on this island, real estate is at a premium. Net result? For the AARP subset of the ABAA, four days of book fair have turned into Hard Time. Not a whine, simply an observation.
Happily, these difficulties have been offset by two major improvements. As of a few years ago the Thursday night charity event, formerly an evening strictly reserved for the see-and-be-seen crowd (no sales to those folks!) has been replaced by a regular preview night in which customers are allowed to come into the fair and purchase our books. And, equally wonderfully, Sandy Smith and Heald's book fair committee were able to wangle an extra room this year from the Armory people for use as a dealer's lounge. A quiet, gently lit cave with coffee urns, long tables, and soft chairs. More than a few winks were stolen in these environs.
As if to compensate for the ever-increasing expense and physical difficulty of this event, the material on display this year was better than I've ever seen it.
Books, maps, and manuscripts were dazzling. And, not to put too fine a point on it, the bucks were flowing. No one I spoke to had a ruinous fair, and even the people with only "so so" results were talking sums well into five figures. So, for almost all exhibitors at the big show, it was "mission accomplished."
Meanwhile, downtown, the Flamingos were holding their annual soiree in the Altman Building on 18th Street.
This year they combined their so-called Shadow Show with a Fine Press Book Fair downstairs in the same venue.
It was a brilliant idea simply because the Fine Press Fair brought out a whole new crowd – and when I say crowd I mean crowd. An estimated 300 book lovers were lined up around the block on opening night, and even at 8 am Sunday morning when the show reopened, there were quite a few book lovers prowling the downstairs event. For understandable financial reasons, the folks at Flamingo Eventz have always been weak on advertizing. The addition of the Fine Press Fair was a creative solution of sorts. It helped get the word out, and bring people in.
Increasingly, "synergy" is becoming a watchword in our trade. Auctions now cluster around book fairs (by my count there were eight of them this year), and books themselves morph into art objects. Promoters find new ways to combine events even as institutions and collectors break down traditional boundaries. Our trade still faces myriad problems. But recently, for the first time in a long time, there's excitement in the air.
(Posted on Bookman’s Log, presented here by permission of the author.)