On November 23 and 24, 2002, the Oregon Antiquarian Book Fair was held at the Convention Center in Portland, Oregon. This was the first year that this book show was produced by Palmer/Wirfs & Associates in conjunction with their Collectible & Antique Show, and it was dedicated to the memory of Oregon bookseller Leonard LanFranco, the tireless organizer of the book show in years past (and former IOBA board member) in “honor of his great knowledge of books, his passion for them and also the vision that he had to bring this group together.”
It was also the first time that we had participated in a book show that was part of an antique show – and there was a bit of culture shock involved. While the number of booksellers in the ‘book fair’ corner was fairly typical of a small to medium sized fairs (about 45 dealers), the overall show was huge by book show standards with over 600 booths of collectible and antique dealers. Palmer and Wirfs seemed to have the logistics of loading and unloading well-organized, but the sheer quantity of dealers with material to drop off made this a unique experience for us. The book fair portion of the show was at the far end of the huge hall – but one of the pluses for this became apparent at the end of the show when the book dealers were allowed to drive into the hall, and almost right up to their booths to load up, while the line of trucks and vans and cars waiting to use the loading dock snaked around the block.
The other difference from the typical book show was the hours during which the show was open: set up was as early as Wednesday before the show – and while Friday was officially a ‘set-up’ day, a limited number of pre-admission badges were sold and the show was open to the public from 10 AM to 6 PM that day. Instead of just the usual dealer pre-show sales, collectors also got to watch you unpack. While it was not mandatory to remain in your booth that day, it was recommended – and, for us, worth it, since our sales on Friday covered the booth fee. Saturday was open from 8 AM to 6 PM and even Sunday was 10 AM to 5 PM. Antique hunters might be dedicated enough to get to a show by 8 AM (in fact, there was a long line waiting when the show opened), but most book lovers don’t seem to be – so the early morning hours were rather quiet at our end of the exhibit hall.
I have mixed feelings about the effectiveness of combining a book fair and antique show into one, with each in their separate section. The organizers apparently did a very good job of publicizing the show (according to many people who came) and even the fact that the Convention Center was under construction did not seem to deter the crowds. On the other hand, most of the attendees were not there to find books – and the location at the far end of the hall meant that only a small amount of casual traffic came all the way to the book booths.
It is hard to say if the show would generate more sales if the book booths were interspersed among the others (there were a few paper/book/magazine dealers who had done the Palmer/Wirfs shows in previous years, and who were not in the book fair section, but over in the general section.) Traffic was fairly steady throughout much of the show, despite the extended hours, and unlike the book dealers who had reservations about the dual set-up, several of those attending expressed their approval of the combination – and we had a few people who came by the booth who had never been to a book show before.
Although some of our stock (and that of some other dealers) was selected with the aim of appealing to antique lovers, one of the ironies of the show for us was that our best selling items were modern science fiction books: there was a small science fiction convention in town, and there was some crossover traffic from that show.
There were other differences in the way the show was organized and run: the cost of the booths were very reasonable, but tables, chairs, table coverings, etc. were all ‘extras.’ The size of the show made it practical to have a company on hand that provided credit card processing for those exhibitors who did not already have this ability. There was also a “restoration row” (which included a bookbinder) that was open during the whole show, both for the experts there to demonstrate their crafts and to answer questions.
And, of course, there were all the usual benefits of doing a book show, including meeting up with old friends, getting to meet booksellers who might only have been a name before, as well as meeting some of our customers for the first time. In addition to the books being offered by the other booksellers, I also managed to find some interesting items over in the main portion of the show. The drawback, of course, of doing an out-of-town show is that the truck was already loaded with books – and that makes scouting difficult – but somehow, even when it seemed that not another bag would fit in, we found room for more –
At any rate, visiting Portland was worth it for us – the weather almost co-operated with only occasional light rain; Lynn DeWeese-Parkinson recommended a wonderful authentic Mexican restaurant (one that is almost worth a trip to Portland all by itself) and on Monday, when we hit the road on the way back, the weather was sunny, so a detour to the coast became mandatory!