Back in the 1990s event promoter Bernice Bornstein saw an opportunity and took advantage of it. Her husband Marvin owned a parking lot directly across the street from the Hynes Auditorium, where the Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair was being held. “Why not have a smaller show for non-ABAA dealers that same weekend?” she asked. “We could use the basement of Marvin's garage.” Thus the first “Shadow Show” was born.
The idea met intense resistance at first. Old-line ABAA dealers were concerned that another show would steal customers and dilute earnings. They feared the public would confuse the ABAA show, where rigid standards for dealers were enforced, with the non-ABAA show, where the only requirement was the ability to pay booth rent. They feared competition from dealers with lower overheads. They feared their stable price structures would be challenged by dealers out to make a quick buck. They feared a lot of things that never came to pass. Bernice's Shadow Show was a great success, and the old guard quickly realized that the existence of a second show benefited everyone.
It wasn't long before promoters Garry Austin and Bruce Gventer transferred the Shadow Show model to the New York International Antiquarian Book Fair. This is the pre-eminent book fair in the country; one of the greatest in the world. By this time there was no doubt in anyone's mind that a second show would provide a tremendous opportunity for ABAA dealers to buy and for non-ABAA dealers to sell. In fact, Garry recalls that ABAA member Shirley Solomon of Pageant Book and Print Shop wrangled a grant from the ABAA Mid-Atlantic Chapter to make sure the fledgling show got off to a good start. (Sandy Smith was the only dissenter. He was the brilliant promoter of the New York ABAA show and a bona fide barracuda businessman.)
At first Austin and Gventer utilized the 26th St. Armory, site of the winter Mancuso shows. Then they moved downtown to the Altman Building in New York's Chelsea District.
Last year at the Altman Building
Eventually Garry and Bruce parted ways, then Garry bowed out, and the show was taken over by Flamingo Eventz.
But, with the exception of an experimental year at Hunter College (convenient location, lousy logistics), the New York Shadow Show has remained in the Altman Building.
Through the years, the roster of dealers has remained stable and the uptown ABAA fair has continued to provide a steady stream of book hungry dealers and customers. Last year the Flaminoz combined their show with a Fine Press show, an innovative move that boosted the gate and seemed to guarantee the health of the downtown Shadow Show.
But our trade is in a very dynamic era – perhaps the least stable moment in the history of the book since Gutenberg. So it should not come as too much of a surprise that the Flamingoz hegemony in the New York Shadow Show market is now facing a serious challenge.
This location is much closer to the ABAA fair, and its opening – 8 am on Saturday – scoops the Flamingoz with their 5 pm Saturday opening. While this situation may be a bonanza for customers, the overlap is such that no dealer will be able to set up at the first show and then move downtown for the second.
Wallace Hall - Looks like there'll be two long rows of booths
The competition between the Getman and Flamingo shows is shaping up as the the Book Show War of 2015. It will be played out on the world's biggest stage – and the battle will be over dealers, not customers.
John and Tina Bruno of Flamingo Eventz view Marvin Getman's plan as a direct, frontal assault. In an email to me, Tina Bruno said, “Assuming Mr. Getman is looking for more income, he could easily find another city in which to run a new show; not put a show on top of an already established working event. What is gained by piggy-backing the Shadow Show other than to try and kill his competition? Yes it’s 'only business' but is it good business? Is it what this industry needs?”
Marvin Getman, on the other hand, sees a much wider field of opportunity, and is convinced that there will be room for everyone. “There is no conflict,” he told me, “Attendees will be able to attend both shows.” He says his marketing studies indicated considerable interest in a shadow show located closer to the ABAA venue. Furthermore, he does not fear the dealer crunch that the Brunos foresee. “I have been surveying dealers and felt that there is sufficient demand to fill 2 shows. When I discovered Wallace Hall at the Church of St. Ignatius on Park Avenue I decided to move forward...I will say that when I sent a notice of the new show recently I received about 80 positive responses, which is many more than I'll have space for, and of those I see only about 15 who were involved in the other show. I think that confirms my feeling that there is sufficient demand to support two shows.”
Is there room for three shows in New York City? We'll soon find out. The New York Book Fair season of 2015 promises to be one of the most interesting in a quite some time.