It was about 1 am when I finally went to sleep Wednesday night, March 8 (more accurately, Thursday morning, March 9) after finishing my last few book descriptions, packing everything just so in plastic bins and boxes, and Tetris-ing everything into our little car for the drive from Philadelphia to NYC. The trip normally takes two hours or less in midday traffic, but Google maps indicated it would take a solid three if not more that weekday morning. So I left promptly at 6 am for my 9:30 load-in – and was still late! On the way a bookseller friend called me at a particularly dangerous Manhattan intersection and I must have been a pretty picture of a zombie yelling at the merging traffic and my speakerphone, “Yes that’s great see you later looking forward to it no don’t worry about what time I have to go PEOPLE ARE CRAZY!”
What did I learn? Don’t schedule load-in so early for a city fair, if you can help it!
As soon as I pulled up to the load-in area outside the venue (St. Ignatius on the Upper East Side), I was greeted by friendly porters who unloaded my car for me. AMAZING! Now all that was left to do was check in at the hotel and park the car. I first went to a garage nearby, but the rate was $50 for the day. The DAY! I lived in NYC long enough to know there are way better options, but I’ve also lived outside of NYC long enough at this point to think I know better and be very, very wrong. I circled a few blocks and ended up in metered parking, much cheaper, but also strictly time-limited to an hour. You can guess where this is going. I got caught up unpacking my books and socializing back at the fair and completely forgot about refilling the meter. I rushed back two hours later to find a bright orange parking ticket on the windshield. The garage would have been cheaper!
So what did I learn? Just pay the garage!
Finally by late afternoon I had beautified my booth, caught up with colleagues, taken a quick look around neighboring displays, and zipped back to the hotel, where I promptly fell facedown onto the bed exhausted. Soon it was time for the Armory show preview, the fanciest of the fair week activities. I swapped my flannel for a blazer and high-heeled it to the Park Avenue Armory. Right at the entrance I ran into David Szewczyk of PRBM and Peter Kraus of Ursus, both former employers, and the Ursus booth in its usual splendor. After chatting with Adam, Olivia, and James Cummins across the aisle, I wandered, starting with the perimeter. The hardest part about the Armory fair is zeroing in on items that I can buy now, and not getting distracted by all the museum-worthy books and manuscripts on display. Here’s where my art history past and bookseller present come into conflict. It’s good the fair is more than one day, because it’s really too large to take in at once and still talk to friends and make good purchases. I can’t say I have totally mastered this yet! The preview was quite busy and the wine was flowing – but not for me, as I headed back uptown early to rest before my big debut.
Thursday morning, March 10, began in the dark. Doors of St. Ignatius were set to open at 6 am to bleary-eyed book dealers in search of bagels, coffee, and pre-fair buys, and 8 am to the public. I had planned to walk from the hotel to St. Ignatius, but opted for a cab as soon as I stepped outside into the cold. My cabbie informed me a blizzard was coming, which was no surprise. We got to the church a few minutes early so I asked if I could stay in the heated car a few minutes longer, time we spent talking about his unusual schedule of 1 am – 1 pm to catch the bar crowds; where to get the best coffee and croissant near my hotel (Yura on Madison – I tried it the next day – delicious!); and how our country is doomed.
The satellite book fair, thankfully, was the opposite of doomed. Despite the weather, we saw good foot traffic all day. I caught a glimpse of a line out the door in the morning, and I was busy in my own booth from opening to close. Most of what I sold was visually striking in some way and/or unique. I had a few inexpensive publisher’s bindings front and center which I brought thinking the fair would be the perfect venue to sell them, but at the end of the day, they were still in my booth, whereas I had sold a pair of 17th-c. broadsides and a large scrapbook of Victorian fashion clippings. Everyone seemed more interested in the rare visual stuff (and, for the most part, the more expensive stuff). Complicated items in foreign languages were less successful.
Overall, I was very happy with the results, and I would certainly do another fair! Thank you to all the friends, librarians, dealers, and former colleagues who visited!