San Rafael stores team with authors to attract crowds downtown

It sounds a little wacky, but it works. Litquake is a literary event that pairs various authors with downtown businesses. The authors perform readings in the stores, which draws in more business, and also creates opportunities for the writer to connect with the community.

How it works: A science fiction or humor writer might be paired with the comic book store. A writer of romantic novels might read at the lingerie store, a cookbook author at a restaurant, and so on. The readings draw as many as 15–50 people into a store at one time.

'The whole point is to bring shoppers downtown,' said Joe Eis, owner of Rebound Bookstore, and organizer of the event. 'It's a free, all-day event, with no street closures, and it brings in a good demographic.'

This is the third year the event will take place on 4th Street, downtown San Rafael, during business hours on Saturday, Oct. 8. About 100 writers will be paired with about 25 stores. Businesses that are not hosting writers have, in the past, put signs in the windows offering discounts to those attending one of the readings. About 50 businesses in all will be participating in some way.

Gamescape North carries a large selection of non-electronic games and hobby supplies. Last year, the store hosted three fantasy and science fiction writers and two storytellers, and will participate again this year.

'It was very clear that in addition to our regulars it pulled in people who didn't know what we were about,' said Andre Sisneros, the store's co-owner. 'They'd say, 'Wow, I didn't know this was here.' And that's the whole idea, right?'

Litquake draws 300–500 people downtown, and is also planned to coincide with the Mill Valley Film Festival, participating at the San Rafael Film Center, drawing on that crowd as well.

Litquake in San Rafael grew out of San Francisco's Literary Festival, which was created in 1999 by and for authors.

Popular demand drove the festival to keep adding more national and international authors, youth programs, classroom visits and book giveaways, and offshoot events like Lit Camp, a juried writers' conference.

In 2013, more than 15,000 people attended the event. As the largest independent literary festival on the West Coast, Litquake San Francisco continues as a nine-day literary spectacle for book lovers, with panel discussions, cross-media events, and hundreds of readings.

Versions of the event, sometimes called 'Lit Crawl' as they resemble the pace of a pub crawl, are now held each year in Austin, Seattle, New York City, Iowa City, Los Angeles, Portland, London, and Helsinki.

Bookstores do particularly well during the event.

According to the New York Times, in 2014 booklovers in the San Francisco-San Jose area spent more than 40 percent of the national average on books.

Eis said Rebound does 50–60 percent more business during Litquake than on the average day.

'We do very well,' he said. 'People come in all year long saying, 'I found your store because I came to Litquake.' That's the whole point, for people to find your store.'

Copperfield's Books also does well during the event.

'We definitely noticed an uptick in sales during Litquake last year,' said Vicki DeArmon, spokesperson for the bookstore chain. 'We had about 50 people in the book store for the event which, is great for us. We appreciate having Litquake in San Rafael which really draws attention to our area of Fourth Street. We are really committed to getting people to downtown San Rafael for events.'

The event also gives local authors exposure in the community.

Cyra McFadden is a Bay Area novelist and author of the bestseller 'The Serial: A Year in the Life of Marin County.' Last year she participated in a theme of 'revenge in literature', and read from 'Carrie' by Stephen King at Rebound Bookstore.

'When I first started writing I had a hard time meeting other authors,' McFadden said. 'Litquake is a way for authors to connect with each other and the community.'

Participating authors include an eclectic range of poet laureates, local and internationally published authors, as well as young writers who can participate in a poetry slam in the courthouse square.

For many mom and pop stores in San Rafael the idea of the event initially took a little explanation, Eis said, but they got it.

'The big picture is that downtown areas should look at clever attention-getters that are not expensive. Partnerships are right in front of them. This is simple, low-key gorilla marketing,' he said. 'What have you got to lose?'

Cynthia Sweeney covers health care, hospitality, residential real estate, education, employment and business insurance. Reach her at or call 707-521-4259.

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