Houston’s Independent Bookstores Make National Spotlight

This article was originally posted at Houston Public Media on 12.29.16

An acclaimed American author has handpicked three booksellers to receive cash bonuses for their hard work.

Brazos Bookstore’s Annalia Luna was totally surprised when she was told she’d be getting a $2,500 check from American author James Patterson.

“I don’t know who nominated me, I have no idea,” Luna says. “But 1,700 people were in the pool this year.”

Patterson chose 149 independent bookstore employees from across the nation. And of the five Texas recipients, three are in Houston. The nominations can come from customers, fellow employees, or others in the industry who feel that the booksellers are passionate about what they do.

Brazos’ Benjamin Rybeck says it’s a testament to the strength of Houston’s indie bookstores. So in a world of giant box stores and online retailers, what keeps Houston’s literary community so strong?

“It’s a boom city still,” Rybeck explains. “People are coming here every single day to work in various industries. And so, as people flow into a city, there are going to be readers.”

Blue Willow Bookshop in West Houston is another success story. When Valerie Koehler bought the place twenty years ago, her annual sales totaled around $30,000. Today, that number hovers between $900,000 and $1 million.

“I think you would find all of us to say that we get a lot of support from our community, whether it’s from reading programs or literacy programs,” Koehler says.

Houston’s third awardee is John Kwiatkowski from Murder by the Book in Rice Village, one of the the largest stores specializing in mystery specialty books in the country.

in the news this week: Three Houston Independent Booksellers Win James Patterson Grants

This article was originally posted at Houstonia Magazine on 12.16.16

IT’S DIFFICULT FOR INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES to compete with Amazon’s endless inventory (and same-day delivery), lightweight tablets that hold up to 3,500 books and, let’s face it, tons of binge-worthy Netflix programing that makes picking up a book anything but a novel idea.

James Patterson, bestselling author who has sold more than 350 million books worldwide, understands the struggle. Every December, the writer gives a “bonus” to standout independent booksellers across the country, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000, in partnership with the American Booksellers Association.

This year, Patterson selected 149 winners who were nominated by store owners, fellow booksellers, publishing professionals and even shoppers. Nominees were celebrated for their “contagious enthusiasm, knowledge across all genres, innovation and, most importantly, dedication to books and reading.”

“I loved hearing about the passion these grant recipients have for the work they’re doing—each is committed to hand-selling and carefully curating book recommendations for each person that walks through their doors,” says Patterson. “The attention these employees give to their customers is intrinsic to keeping them interested in reading. Booksellers can really make a difference in people’s lives, and I’m glad to be able to acknowledge their contributions in some way.”

This year, three Houston booksellers were amongst the country’s 149 recipients: Cathy Berner of Blue Willow Bookshop, John Kwiatkowski of Murder by the Book and Annalia Luna of Brazos Bookstore.

“Winning this award has shown me that it is not necessary to be the face of a bookstore to be appreciated by the larger book community, and it’s validating to know that even the more oblique ways of bookselling are valued by readers and shoppers alike,” shares Luna, the shipping and returns manager at Brazos. “I’m thankful Mr. Patterson recognized booksellers from fellow Houston bookstores, Murder by the Book and Blue Willow Bookshop,” continues Luna. “True—Texas is not New York or California, but the Houston literary scene is active and vibrant. It’s comforting to see our city get exposure.”