Congratulations go to Alexis Sirrakos, co-founder of Kutztown, Pennsylvania-based Walnut Street Paper, for winning the Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair Prize. This year, promoter Marvin Getman and the Brooklyn Antiquarian Fair (BABF) offered one 2019 Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS) graduate a booth at the September fair as well as a travel and equipment stipend. Applicants were asked to write a one-page essay about why they wanted to exhibit at BABF. The prize prioritized new booksellers who had not previously exhibited at large fairs.
Alexis joined the book trade with her husband earlier this year. “I’ve always had a fantasy about owning a bookstore. I just loved being around books. It allows a lot of flexibility, especially to being able to raise my kids, who are starting school in the fall. This seemed the best option as I rejoin the workforce.”
She decided to register for the program on the recommendation of a friend and fellow CABS participant. Sirrakos describes the seminar as “the perfect amount of information; it was overwhelming and intense.” The seminar helped her get “a good understanding of what I was getting myself into” and was pleased she came now at the beginning of career instead of waiting several years.
One of the biggest lessons Sirrakos learned from CABS was the importance of not holding onto books for too long because they tie up capital that can be used to buy even better, potentially more valuable books. She also says that discussions about “knowing how to brand yourself,” even through things like as mundane as packaging, go a long way towards cultivating customer loyalty.
Sirrakos decided to apply for The Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair Prize because “everyone said it was a really good starting point.” Alexis and her husband are bringing illustrated books and global classics, an area of focus for their shop, as well as ephemera like original movie posters and 1950s advertisements. She is excited about Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Le Petite Prince, read aloud in French and recorded on vinyl ($12) and The Holy Cats by Andy Warhol’s Mother, illustrated by Warhol, and 25 Cats Name Sam and one Blue Pussy, also by Warhol ($225 apiece).
Right now, Walnut Street Paper is showing at local fairs and is building an online storefront, with a brick and mortar shop in the works. Inventory hails from auctions and used book shops. The Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair will be Sirrakos’s first major fair. The BABF will be a different experience with the concentration of book and ephemera sellers and a dedicated customer base who want to add to their collections.
At BABF, Sirrakos hopes to learn from her fellow booksellers. She wants to see how other booksellers market their inventory, set up their booths, and other minutiae involved in operating a bookshop. Moreover, she looks to make connections with other booksellers and reunite with CABS alumni. “I’m hoping to understand what customers are interested in buying from us” and learning about finding and maintain customers. “It’s going to be an eye opening experience” for us, she says.
Join Sirrakos and other CABS alumni at The Brooklyn Antiquarian Book Fair on September 7 and 8th.
Elisa Shoenberger is a researcher and writer. She has published articles and essays at the Boston Globe, the Rumpus, Deadspin, Syfy, and other outlets. She is a regular contributor to Book Riot and is the co-editor and co-founder of The Antelope: A Journal of Oral History and Mayhem.