Last month, I celebrated my 10-year anniversary as the director of the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association. Ten years ago, I didn’t know my job existed, much less that it was part of this extraordinary industry where values are a commodity and competitors are friends. I’m grateful every day to work alongside the passionate and creative people who believe bookstores are community sanctuaries.
It’s fitting to experience this personal milestone at the same time MIBA is beginning its 40th year. It’s a time for reflection in so many ways. The pandemic is still gripping the world and not allowing any of us to get back to “normal.” In a prescient move, Bookshop opened in January, giving many stores without e-commerce an opportunity to keep selling books as state mandates forced their doors to close. Penguin Random House bought Simon & Schuster and we wait to see how it will unfold. BookExpo is no longer, while Publishers Weekly and Edelweiss have announced their own virtual and online gatherings in its place. Moon Palace Books is still boarded up after the uprising protesting the murder of George Floyd. Most recently, we are shocked and angered that a disinformation-fueled insurrection so easily overtook the nation’s capital.
As we make plans to celebrate our 40th anniversary, every moment will be tinged with sadness due to the catastrophic loss of “the Uncles” during the uprising after George Floyd’s death. Uncle Hugo’s and Uncle Edgar’s Bookstores, owned by Don Blyly, who founded MIBA in 1981, were burned to the ground, along with the unquantifiable treasure trove of books inside.
Despite all the loss, uncertainty, and fear, there’s still good news. During challenging times, we rise up together and collectively reaffirm our values. Many bookstores have had a successful year, and many more are reporting they had the best holiday in history. As of today, Bookshop is on its way to raising 11 million dollars for independent bookstores, an astonishing number having been in operation for just one year.
Whether or not sales were up, down, or flat, independent bookstores worked tirelessly to keep their bright light shining at a time when it feels like we need them more than ever--and I don’t say that lightly. We always need bookstores, but in a year when we were confined to our homes, disinformation flared, Amazon deprioritized books, and our country desperately needed to read about antiracism, bookstores were there for us as an unwavering refuge in the storm.
I'd like to say thank you to booksellers and everyone in the industry who reinvented their work again and again. Each book we bought felt like one more brick laid on the path to a better world.
As we head into 2021, we invite you to celebrate our 40th anniversary with us throughout the year. We'll look back on our history and reflect on the future, giving you opportunities to submit your photos and memories, donate to industry causes, and join us for some new programming. Plans will be rolled out in the weeks and months ahead, so please stay tuned for more information. Please make a note of your favorite MIBA memories, historical tidbits, and favorite pictures of bookseller gatherings! We want it all.
We'd like to make a special note of the contribution of Don Blyly, who founded MIBA in 1981. Don Blyly is the owner of Uncle Hugo and Uncle Edgar's, which were burned to the ground during the uprising following the protests after the murder of George Floyd. To contribute, you can donate to his crowdfunding campaign to help Don in his future endeavors.
Here's the origins of our association, which Don shared with us.
"In the summer of 1980, ABA put together a workshop in Chicago on organizing regional bookseller organizations. At that time, I owned Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore and Books Galore, a full-line shopping mall store. I was the only person from Minnesota who went. When I came back from the workshop, I called other local bookstores to get them interested, but didn’t find a lot of enthusiasm. I also talked up the idea with the local sales reps, and they were all very enthusiastic about the idea, and they suggested that it would be better if they pushed the idea on other bookstore owners, rather than having the idea come from a competitor. Cissy Tiernan (who was then the Ballantine rep), Wayne Farr (who was then the Harper rep), and Ray Jay (who was then the Pocket Book rep) talked up the idea with all the independent bookstore owners they sold to, and we had an organizational meeting in the fall of 1980 at the Lincoln Deli that used to be in St. Louis Park just across the border from Minneapolis. Bookstore owners from several local stores, one from Duluth, and one from Iowa showed up, and we all agreed to start the Upper Midwest Booksellers Association. We incorporated in 1981, filed nonprofit paperwork with IRS in 1981, and held our first trade show in the fall of 1981."
Through good times and bad, cheers to everyone in the book world for working so tirelessly to further the industry we believe in.