Forecasts for the book trade have always been cloudy, with at least a 50% chance of contradiction. For booksellers, however, weather is more than just a convenient metaphor; it is a tangible factor in their day-to-day business, well, climate.
What is good weather for bookselling? That depends upon what sort of shop you keep. For a New York City street vendor or a bookstore near the beach, sunny days beat the hell out of rainy ones.
Ideal bookselling weather undoubtedly varies from place to place. What, for example, is a prime weather day for a bookstore in Miami? In Austin? In Los Angeles? In Seattle? In Baltimore?
For Vermont, the best bookstore weather is often bad, depending upon the season. You watch forecasts carefully. If your bookstore is located in a tourist area, your calculations as a biblio-meteorologist must take into account a number of variables.
In winter, you hope for early week snowstorms to whet the appetite of out-of-state skiers. Ideally, those storms will abate by Friday, leaving good powder on the mountains and clear highways for easy driving.
During the summer, rainy weekends rule for visitors and locals alike. There are endless reasons to visit a bookstore on a drizzly Saturday, while a perfect summer day will send even the most dedicated readers outdoors.
Autumn is easy because foliage season and colder temperatures attract visitors who move fluidly from outside to inside. And when the leaves fall, you still have wind chill and the approaching holiday season to lure readers into your shop.
As for spring, all bets are off. Mark Twain said it best: "There is a sumptuous variety about the New England weather that compels the stranger's admiration--and regret.... But it gets through more business in spring than in any other season. In the spring I have counted one hundred and thirty-six different kinds of weather inside of four and twenty hours."
Civilians--aka non-booksellers--may not realize how important the weather is to bookstores. They might assume that since it's an indoor job, what's happening outside--short of a flood or tornado--can't possibly matter that much. It does matter, big time, in subtle ways that affect the bottom line, which doesn't care if the sun was shining last Saturday when sales were down 22% from last year.
Perhaps I should explain that I was inspired to consider this subject by the unusual number of entertaining weather references I noticed in bookstore e-mail newsletters recently. Here's just a sampling:
"It seems like it has been an unusually hot summer already, and at the GCB Blogs, we've been working on ways to stay cool in the rising July temperatures. One of our bloggers explores the merits of the patio bar on a hot summer day--in Austin, Texas--where she beats the heat with an impressive beer selection. If it's too sticky to sit outside (even with a nice cold one), curl up in front of the air conditioner with a good book."--Globe Corner Bookstore, Cambridge, Mass.
"As we approach the dog days of summer, here's something you can get enthused about: another Auntie's to love! You asked for it, and we're about to deliver a smaller version of our marvelous main store at River Park Square."--Auntie's Bookstore, Spokane, Wash.
"Before I begin, a quick update about how my life in receiving has been since you last heard from me. My friends from around the country often ask me how cold it is in Wisconsin. In particular when there is a heat wave wherever they live. It's as if they are trying to cool off vicariously through me. I have to try and patiently explain that Wisconsin does not snow throughout the year, and we are, in fact, rather hot here too. And then we inevitably get into an argument about how our 86 degrees with 70% humidity isn't as bad as their 90 degrees and 0% humidity. Sheesh. Long story short, it's really flipping hot in receiving, and it's only amplified when I have to keep moving boxes of The Passage around."--Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, Wis.
And from the blog at the Galaxy Bookshop, Hardwick, Vt.: "After a couple of long, hot weeks, my brain feels something like butterscotch pudding, so even though I've read a number of wonderful books I'd like to review, I don't see that happening today."
What's the forecast for booksellers? Cloudy, to be sure, but sometimes a little bad weather can be good for business.--Published in Shelf Awareness, issue #1239