The American Booksellers Association holds its Winter Institute — an annual convention for 500 of the organization’s members — from Sunday-Wednesday, Feb. 8-11. First of all: Yes, it’s in Asheville — a major shift for the association, which usually hosts its event in a major city, near a hub airport.
Secondly, if you’re not already registered for the highly anticipated event (it sold out within days of being announced last year), sorry, but you can’t attend. It’s a closed industry meeting.
However, having to do with books, booksellers and the publishing industry, “we do attract an impressive powerhouse of authors,” says ABA CEO Oren Teicher. This year’s roster includes award-winning poet and essayist Wendell Berry, novelist and short story writer T.C. Boyle, North Carolina author and Appalachian Trail solo-hiker Jennifer Pharr Davis, illustrator Carson Ellis, Atlanta-based chef and cookbook author Kevin Gillespie, Scandinavian tech industry writers Daniel Goldberg and Linus Larsson, photographer Sally Mann, N.C.-born novelist and playwright Ian Weir and many others. Because those authors will already be in town, a number have also arranged to appear at Malaprop’s — and those events (see sidebar) are open to the public.
Malaprop’s is just one of a number of local businesses that ABA members will visit during the Winter Institute. In fact, it’s the strong local climate of independent business that attracted ABA to Asheville. “It’s a slight challenge,” Teicher says of organizing the logistics and bringing in attendees. But this is not just any Winter Institute: It’s the 10th anniversary of the event.
There’s the literary history of the area, and several of the presenters on the program are from Asheville. But “one of the things that we are doing in Asheville, that’s different from what we’ve done elsewhere, is we’re working very aggressively with lots of local businesses,” says Teicher. “One of the motivations for picking Asheville was this incredibly vibrant local independent business scene. There’s a wealth of resources available to us in Asheville to help enhance the program.” So important is that aspect of the city to ABA that the program launches with an “indie retail crawl of downtown Asheville.” There’s also a trolley tour as well as visits to the Thomas Wolfe Memorial and the Biltmore Estate.
Aside from those trips, the majority of the Winter Institute takes place at The Omni Grove Park Inn. There, keynote addresses, discussion groups, “rep picks speed dating,” presentations, learning sessions, Q&As and consultations pack the busy itinerary. Still, Teicher says that the 500 bookstore owners or managers, along with another 250 publisher representatives, vendors and authors, make up an “incredible community of people who thrive on getting together to talk to each other about best practices. The entire event becomes a massive schmooze-fest.” That’s a good thing: “It’s a valued three days of lots and lots of networking between stores. We put on what we think is a challenging, compelling program, but a lot of the value in this is just the opportunity for booksellers to be together.”
While Teicher doesn’t offer specific numbers as far as economic impact, he points out that the event — which is sought after by convention and visitors bureaus around the U.S. — has sold out The Grove Park Inn and filled up the Renaissance Asheville Hotel, and what’s more, the social nature of the gathering means many dinners out and get-togethers in local bars.
And why not? Even though Winter Institute focuses on industry, it’s also a celebration. “There’s a popular wisdom out there that brick-and-mortar bookstores are fighting a losing battle,” Teicher says. “In fact, lots of our members are doing quite well. We had a good 2014 and a strong holiday season. Malaprop’s is a great example of the kind of creativity and entreprenurialism people are applying.”
Learn more at bookweb.org/wi2015.