Report from the Cooperstown Book Fair

Book dealer and colleague John Waite posted the following poignant account of his experiences at this past weekend’s Cooperstown Book Fair to the ABAA’s private email discussion list. I enjoyed it so much I asked if he would mind my sharing it here as well. I’m very pleased he agreed.

Most book fairs are neither good nor bad, just well organized and run... or not. The Cooperstown fair is one of the former. Housed in an attractive, well-lit athletic and recreational facility not far from the Baseball Hall of Fame, the fair has been held during the latter part of June for many years, more or less standing its ground in the face of declining enthusiasm for book fairs generally. A mostly regional event organized by dealers Will Monie and Ed Brodzinsky, Cooperstown stays in the game like a perennial minor league player who just isn’t ready to quit. As is the case with every book fair some exhibitors do well, some don’t, but most return for another year.

Yesterday when I left Vermont to begin the four-hour drive to Cooperstown, I hadn’t gone more than 15 miles south on I-91 when I noticed a large dog, maybe some kind of yellow lab mix, wandering on the highway in the sad way that dogs do when they are lost or abandoned. He seemed to be making his way north, stopping and tentatively looking this way and that before continuing. Whenever I see dogs walking aimlessly by themselves, the sight depresses me. So the trip to Cooperstown did not begin in the most auspicious way.

On the way I stopped to preview two country auctions, left bids on one or two things at each, and continued my drive. I also made impromptu stops at a used bookstore in Vermont and an antique shop in Glens Falls, NY, neither of which yielded any finds. My four-hour drive had by then had worked into a nearly seven hour safari, and I was still more than a half-hour from Cooperstown when I decided to have dinner, even though stopping then precluded even dropping off my books before the Friday set-up closed at 8 p.m. I checked into my room at KC’s motel in East Springfield, 15 miles north of Cooperstown, about 7:45 that evening, got out my laptop to check my email and look-up a few items, phoned my wife, and called it a day.

This morning I left the hotel early to go set up. I took the less-traveled Route 31 on the east side of the lake south towards Cooperstown. On the way I passed a handmade road sign that read in red letters “Thou Shalt Not Steal.” It was kind of strange since at that very moment I had been mulling over how much I had recently offered someone for a book that I probably wasn’t going to get. Much later it occurred to me that I should have stopped and taken the sign. I was at the fair by 7 a.m., arriving almost in tandem with Will Monie, who kindly helped me unload. Because I usually travel without a lot of material compared to most book dealers, I quickly set-up and in little more than a half-hour was out on the floor nosing around. Because I’m currently long on receivables and short on cash, I had little money to spend. I didn’t see much that I wanted to buy, except for a protectionist-themed 19th century fabric broadside with edges in red, white & blue in support of American Labor and American Industry. If I had been more flush with cash, I would have purchased it by myself. As it happened, another dealer liked it too, so we bought it together.

That turned out to be the high point of the fair for me, at least for business. I managed to sell one item to the trade for a full one-third discount, but it didn’t even cover the $225 investment for my half-booth. On the other hand, I enjoyed talking with other dealers, including an older man I had not met before who had served for nearly a decade as a US consular official in Pakistan in the 1950s. He told stories of working on commerce issues in Lahore and traveling with a military escort to meet tribal chieftains in Waziristan. In the decades since he had built a considerable library of books on Central and South Asia, in which he now trades.

At the end of the day, it was just another day. I took the most direct route home and returned after a little more than four hours. About three miles from my exit on the interstate, I noticed an animal dead on the right shoulder of the highway. At first I figured it was a deer with the light red-tan coat they wear in early summer. Then I realized it was the dog I saw yesterday just a few miles further south. Confused, lost, and probably not paying much attention, he had walked in front of a car or truck. I felt sickened for a moment then thought, apropos of nothing, that this dog’s end might be a metaphor for something. Then I thought maybe it ought to be a metaphor for making metaphors.
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