This Year's ABAA West Coast Show in Oakland, a qualified success

- by Bruce E. McKinney

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Bookseller’s are by their nature, argumentative.  They split hairs; see black and white where the rest of the world sees shades of grey.  They are a talmudic breed, tending to dispute rather than agree.  Why is your copy better? It’s a question whose answer can bend light beams to both shine on a competitor’s defects and this seller’s virtues.  After all these dealers are selling so much more than printed materials.  Inclusion in their world, introductions to the best collector organizations, and first opportunities to buy the rare and special are as much the currency of the trade [at the highest levels anyway] as the material they sell.  Cachet is difficult to quantify but easy to grasp.

 

This past year the ABAA’s northern California chapter was tasked with finding a replacement site for the west coast fair that has been held at the Concourse Exhibition Center in San Francisco.  That old building is succumbing to the building disease that is both raising real estate to unparalleled valuations and making previously inhospitable locations appealing, in other words just like the long-out-of-favor books that, after years in the desert, emerge to be rediscovered and acclaimed with much higher prices.

 

Over a recent weekend in February, the 6th to the 8th the fair convened in its new location, a 7 scant miles distant and also light years away.  The site was just over the Oakland Bay Bridge, for San Franciscans a few miles away but a world apart for the water separating San Francisco and Oakland to some, and mostly locals, is a safety barrier separating order from chaos.  But this difference, strongly felt in the city, is mostly in the minds of San Franciscans who see their city continually cast as the city on the hill and protected from Sodom and Gomorrah just across the South Bay channel.  We have murders in the city but Oakland, with a smaller population, has more and sometimes many more.  We are in short prejudiced; having seen the Fruitvale Station movie several times where Oscar Grant was murdered by police and have since concluded the movie is for us a metaphor.

 

We who live here are also the subject of prejudice for out-of-towners sometimes expect to see a transvestite on every corner, gay bars in every area, gay pride parades and naked marathoners prancing across the open spaces everyday. I’ve seen only one transvestite in eighteen years and she was gorgeous.  The naked marathoners are an item in the newspapers and on TV, but about as visible from where I live as a volcano in Hawaii.  If you don’t go looking you won’t find it.

 

So change was forced on the organizing committee and the Northern California chapter made the controversial decision to have the fair much closer to where some of them live.

 

The venue, the Oakland Marriott City Center, was the perfect venue with plenty of parking under roof.  The roof mattered because on Friday it rained.  Unfortunately I don’t think that people driving over knew about the parking convenience.  They will when the fair returns in two years.

 

The show itself was different.  The audience seemed more interested in less expensive material and those dealers who brought it seemed to do well.  More expensive and more complicated material did not.  The distance may only have been seven miles but Oakland is not the yuppie kingdom San Francisco is.

 

For myself, making the trip by car, I chose to use our Prius rather than the car I usually drive, a new Corvette.  That was a clear case of prejudice.

 

As to how others were getting there the show organizers seemed to pander to the uncertainty, boldly pointing out how easy it was to get there by mass transit and implying their awareness of visitor concerns.  More than one person said to me “its not a problem so long as you don’t make a wrong turn.”  Well, thank you for that.

 

The next show will have better attendance, particularly among the high rollers.  The mix of material will be distinctly different.  No one is going to forget the lines to get into the ephemera booths where the collectible material started off at about $50.00 nor will they forget the thinness of the market at the top.  As well the promotion will have to adjust.  We are living in a different world and recognition of it will turn this year’s double into 2017's home run.