Event Hosting – Bookshop Style

by Jo Canham of Blarney Books
Blarney BooksI am a little dubious and slightly stressed.  Not generally the state of secondhand bookshop owner.  This mood has come about because I agreed to put up my shop as a “venue” for yet another of Port Fairy’s winter weekends.  These are weekends that are designed to attract people who might not ordinarily consider a weekend in a coastal town mid-winter.  The weekend ahead is a Food & Wine weekend.  My shop is going to play host to various companies who want to show off their stuff.  We have a cheese group, a wine group, and a cafe promoting their suppliers (breads, condiments etc).  A man who’s written a book about Italian preserving techniques, and a coffee man.

One thing my shop does have, which is reasonably unusual for a secondhand bookshop, is space.  It’s an old Masonic Hall, and a fairly large one at that.  We have oodles of room.  This is part of my vision – in that, I can grow the shop year by year without fear of running out of space, for a long, long time!  So we have been able to add an art space, and we are able to host events like this.  However, this is my first event that is not at all book-related.  So it’s not about attracting book-nuts.  The people it may attract are people who may have absolutely no interest in books.  My husband assures me that many people who are into gourmet food and wine etc., are also cultured enough to appreciate a good book.  They may be, but it’s not a guarantee.  At least with the author nights we’ve hosted, we know we’re attracting readers.
I have tidied up the shop, cleared out the rugs, moved the tables around, taken all the big books off the trestles and relocated the trestles, and I feel – well, almost refreshed!  I do find that any amount of “fiddling” in my shop gives me satisfaction.  It’s good to move books around, re-shelve books that have been left lingering too long in out-of-reach places, books lurking under other books, forgotten and neglected.  Good to shake the dust off anything, really!  Call me disorganised if you like, but I find some gems underneath the sporting annuals, putting back on the shelf almost-new Asian cookbooks and house design volumes (both always popular).  I’ve also spent the morning cleaning out the fish tank.
Saturday comes around and while there are some management issues (some of the suppliers haven’t shown, the superior sourdough supplier is replaced with Port Fairy’s local bakery issue) we have a great turn-out.  The coffee man has people in thrall to his commentary and demonstration of barista techniques, they are crowded around him.  The Water Buffalo cheese-makers have completely impressed everybody with their “Buffetta”, and their parmesan-equivalent that there is a definite exit at the end of their session to the specialty store around the corner which stocks their products.  And in the meantime, I have made many, many good sales.  Let’s say to the equivalent of a summer holiday day.  Very very good for mid-winter.  As an added bonus, I have had a wonderful time meeting the suppliers, as well as the attendees.  Several have signed up for Blarney’s newsletters (“The Blarney Beat”).

And Sunday is even better.  Sunday’s line-up includes a talk from the owners of a five-year-old winery on the outskirts of Port Fairy, and of course, tastings of their Pinot.  This is followed up by a couple who run an organic farm, provoking lively discussion on all manner of subjects, including how to stop birds from picking fruit to how to stop beetroot forking!  Finally, there is Pietro Demaio, discussing his book Preserving the Italian Way, and providing demonstrations of the art (the smell of heated vinegar lingers still…).  Pietro is an animated and entertaining presenter, and the large crowd that has by now gathered is sorry when his session comes to an end.  For me, sales today have been slower, because the large gathering has actually turned potential customers away.  However, that’s not necessarily a negative because there were a lot of people in attendance who hadn’t realised Blarney Books even existed.
So I am looking at it as advertising.  And later in the afternoon, I did have some return customers, and even some people who had attended the sessions, returned to buy books they had noticed on the shelves between events.
All up, it was a fun, rewarding and productive weekend!  And my husband and I met a variety of wonderful, inspiring and creative people – and to me, that is everything.  We will do it again.
If you are interested, here are some of their websites:

2 thoughts on “Event Hosting – Bookshop Style”

  1. Sounds like a win-win and that an excellent time was had by all. The main winning line I read in your report was, “there were a lot of people in attendance who hadn’t realised Blarney Books even existed.”

    May they return with oodles of money to spend.

  2. A very interesting article – thank you.

    The first thing that popped into my head is a Barbra Streisand song – “Love Comes From the Most Unexpected Places”.

    Unfortunately, yours was a lesson that will probably be missed or dismissed by almost every bookseller trapped in their comfort zone.

    How has it come to pass that the age-old truths are given short shrift, have they been overwhelmed by all the glitter of what is new and hip? It should be as natural as breathing to pay attention to things like – The “Law of Tenfold Return” simply states that whatever you give will be returned to you times ten.

    But if people in the book business haven’t yet grasped “Location! Location! Location!” – we would probably have to reach an altogether new level of stupidity to think there is much hope for the survival of the business.

    Congratulations on making the efforts required to break through another barrier. Good luck.

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