Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Vald the Bookseller

So. You're Carl Hiaasen. You're on tour for your latest book, Striptease, and you show up at a bookstore for a signing. But instead of plopping you down behind a desk in the New Fiction section, the store owner (yes, this is an Indie!) sets you up in the store's front window. With a stripper. Who dances while you sign books.

Knowing Carl, who is much more buttoned down than most of his characters, this likely induced a state just short of apoplexy. Still, you gotta love a bookseller who will do anything -- and I mean anything -- to support an author and get readers into a store.

And you gotta love the prospect of Vald Svekis getting back into business. He recently signed a 15-year lease on a 35,000 square-foot space in Boca Raton's Mizner Park with plans to open an as-yet-to-be-named bookstore-to-end-all-bookstores in October 2007. It's the same location where Svekis launched his much-beloved Liberties Fine Books & Music in 1990. In addition to hiring a stripper for Hiaasen, Svekis came up with a boatload of other promotional antics. When Madonna's SEX book came out, he invited customers to preview the book in private booths for $1 minute.

"We raised almost $2,000 doing that and donated it to a local AIDS center," said Svekis when I spoke with him the other day.

It was a short run. Svekis sold Liberties in 1994 and it subsequently closed. But against all prevailing wisdom — the American Booksellers Association, which does not include the big-box brands, reports it now loses an average of 250-300 members each year — Svekis is wildly enthusiastic about giving it another shot. He's got the space. He's got the backing of local politicians and Chamber of Commerce types. Now all he needs is investors who are willing to stake him to the tune of $3 million.

While he's trolling for money guys, Svekis is busy brainstorming. Among the plans on the drawing board for the new bookstore:

* A wine/jazz room. "I see it as a place where you can plop down with a glass of wine and a pile of books and lose yourself in the moment," says Svekis.
* A 100-seat cinema that will show foreign/indie films and be used for author appearances.
* A "really interesting cafe" that will include its own bakery and a demo kitchen where cookbook authors and visiting chefs can do their thing.
* Two performance stages with a daily schedule of events, including everything from poetry slams to a Hyde Park-style soapbox where anyone can opine on politics and current events.
* A teahouse and an on-site ice cream shop that makes its own ice cream. "I'm experimenting with some alcohol-based flavors right now," says Svekis.
* A publishing center where store clerks will help prospective authors create their own books -- everything from personal memoirs and family biographies to fiction. But rather than just printing up a bunch of copies, Svekis plans to take it another step. "We'll put their self-published books right on our shelves and sell them. It's all about the thrill of seeing your book in a bookstore," he says. "And who knows, we might even sell a few of them."
* And Svekis is ultimately shooting for a 24/7 bookstore that will offer curbside pickup of books, food, drinks -- you know, just like Outback.

The most out-there idea involves private "mood environments," cubicles that authors can use to inspire their writing. Explains Svekis: "You want a dark and stormy night? We'll create a dark and stormy night. We can control everything from sound and images to aromas."

Is Svekis at all daunted by the dismal fortunes facing most independent booksellers?

"Hell, no," he says. "The Barnes & Noble near me is doing $13 million a year and they don't do nearly the number of cool things that I plan to do."

Go, Vald, go ...


PJ Parrish said...

Thanks for the great interview. I remember when I was just starting out the Boca Liberties was one of the few stores that treated me well. Didn't matter that I was unknown; they made each author feel special. Can't wait to see what Vald will do this time around.

JD Rhoades said...

When this thing opens, I am so there.

Kristy said...

Ha! So I could have, like, a geeky girl taking an IQ test or something. That would be exciting...

Great post, Bob :-)

UF J-School '79 said...

And what the heck are you doing up at 7:16 am? I'm up here in Michigan where the sun doesn't set until 9:30 and the mosquitoes are bigger and hungrier than in Florida. Why in the world would an Orlando native choose to move to Brighton, Michigan? And during a one-state recession? Family! Too bad I missed all the book signing and appearances when you were in Florida.

-J. Michael Lenninger

Anonymous said...

When I reached Dave Barry, before explaining the need he said something about the daily botox treatment, bye, click. Then I called Judy Tenuta. She thought I was her agent. Then she remembered and in the middle of a scream slammed the phone. All right so I can't use a third party to deliver the check. Where should I send it?
vald svekis

Darlyn said...

This Svekis guy sounds like my kind of folk. Can I buy an intro with a pound of your favorite roast from Palmano's?

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kathleen said...

I loved the interview.......so exciting to have a creative and interesting book store again. I have been in visual all my life and would love to be involved in coming up with out of the ordinary ideas...to excite and stimulate people......about lots of things going on......e-mail me....

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