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Most recently (Oct 6-7, 2012) we showed at the Pasadena Antiquarian Book Fair that was sponsored by Bustamante. That group is mainly known for its antique shows. The first day of a fair (Saturday in this case) is usually the busiest with people hoping to find that seldom-seen treasure to purchase for their collection or resale. Saturday attendance was very light this time compared to book fairs I did in the 1990s when I was manager of The Prince and the Pauper Collectible Children's Books for a dozen years (1988-2000). Most of those fairs were in Glendale or Burbank. The Sunday attendance in Pasadena was actually a bit larger and was almost normal compared with what one saw in the 1990s fairs. However, to be successful, a fair needs to attract a large number of people on Saturday to create a perception that if a buyer does not purchase or place on hold an item that it may not be there when they return to the booth. That was not there at the Pasadena show this time. I hope that the February show in Santa Monica.
There were some book fairs in the 1980s and early 1990s. A few of the early ones were successful but, in general, it was hard to get buyers to attend. The collectors in LA and Orange counties often would not come down to a San Diego fair. However, the San Diego people would go up to an LA or OC fair.
Thinking about it at the time, I considered that one possible reason for the lack of success for San Diego fairs was that we had so many great used bookstores and a collector did not have to wait for a fair to find good books. Now both the number of fairs and the number of bookstores have diminished. At first it was easy to point to eBay and the used book databases siphoning off sales. Now eBay is a bit less successful as the fee structures have changed and eBay seems to want to have more new retail merchandise than collectibles.
Getting back to San Diego book fairs, there was an "Open Air Book Fair" held for several years from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. It was initially on Adams Avenue "Book Row" (which had up to a dozen stores between 30th and 35th) and was later on Fifth Avenue in Hillcrest. Despite being held on a Sunday in June, rain (or at least moisture from the marine layer and "June gloom") was sometimes an issue. The dates selected for the Fifth Avenue fairs sometimes conflicted with the Rock n Roll Marathon. This popular event closed the 163 freeway, making it hard for people to get to it. Parking was often an issue for both fair locations. Eventually the same people who had to organize the fair, year after year, got burned out.
Some time before the "Open Air Book Fairs" there were some small fairs with perhaps 12-24 sellers held in a Masonic Lodge on Adams Avenue. The location required certain restrictions on the content of the material offered for sale and no alcohol was permitted in the building. These were fine by me since I do children's books and drink only root beer. However, it does indicate that there could be obstacles for some. That building did have a small parking lot, enough for the limited traffic of the fair.
More recently, City College has had some literary events that brought in authors and poets from Mexico and Central America. They invited booksellers to set up outdoor and some indoor booths in November. One year there was torrential rain that weekend, largely unpredicted. Some books were lost. The big problem was that the audience was not looking for the kinds of used and collectible books the sellers brought. They did buy the books by the guests but this was in the lobby of the auditorium. Many of the attendees did not make it out to the book fair portion. We did it for two years and gave up on it. I think most of the sellers I spoke with were disappointed. At least the booths were free for the sellers.
This year the ALA division devoted to Rare Books and Manuscripts (RBMS) had its conference in San Diego. Booksellers who were members of the ABAA (Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America) and ILAB were invited to show items and make connections with the attendees. I don't know if many books were sold but the goal was to make contacts. Knowing of this event in our home town, we arranged to enter the book fair portion even though we were probably the only non-conference people in the room.
A book fair in San Diego would be welcome to me and we would almost certainly participate in the event and help with the organization and promotion. However, it should be done with the full realization of what has happened in the past so that the gaps can be addressed, if possible.
A small indoor fair that was well promoted might be the way to begin. If those sellers are happy with the results, it will grow.
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