How to sell books in a downturn

These are not good times for bookstores, and particularly not for independent bookstores. The American Booksellers Association notes that its membership today includes 20 percent fewer independent bookstores than it did five years ago. And yet here's a brand new independent that's flourishing.

What's the secret at Idlewild Books, a bookstore just one year old, located on the second floor of an old house on 19th Street in Manhattan? Personal service and the right angle.

Idlewild Books  focuses on travel books, one of a small number of bookstores in the US to do so. (The ABA estimates that of its 1,850 members only about a dozen specialize in travel books.)

But different from most other travel bookstores, Idlewild doesn't focus on guides and maps as much as it does on international fiction. And one of the smartest things the store does is to offer "Destination Kits," selections of books tailored to individual interests.

For example, Idlewild owner David Del Vecchio told the Associated Press, "A man called because his daughter and son-in-law are moving to Hong Kong. She likes classic period lit, he likes spy novels. Both are very into restaurants and shopping. We picked out six guides and novels related to their interests, plus a Cantonese phrasebook."

Or for a trip to Berlin, Idlewild "fixed up architect Rana Hajjar with TimeOut Berlin, the Knopf Map Guide, 'Berlin: The Architecture Guide,' Christopher Isherwood's 'The Berlin Stories' and Peter Gay's 'Weimar Culture.' "

This time of year (graduation season, with plenty of graduates planning trips) has made the kits particularly popular, says Del Vecchio.

Overall, however, business at Idlewild seems to be booming.  Del Vecchio told the AP that since January, "We've recorded double-digit growth every month."

Of course, a cool locale and smart marketing don't hurt either. And for readers at least as old as I am, there's a bit of a nostalgia factor as well. Before 1963, Idlewild was the name of New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. The store's decor includes stained glass from Idlewild Airport's original American Airlines terminal and wooden chairs from the airport's waiting area.

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