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The NAIBA Joe Drabyak Handseller of the Year Award
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Alex Brubaker, Handseller of the Year

Sometimes a job is the perfect fit from the start. Just ask Alex Brubaker.

Brubaker found his niche at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, PA, and his innate skills won him the 2017 Joe Drabyak Handseller of the Year award.

“I’m thrilled and honored to be selected as the NAIBA Handseller of the Year. There’s no better feeling as a bookseller than connecting readers with good books – but to be recognized by a community of established booksellers is something else entirely. I have to give a huge thanks to the owners of the Midtown Scholar Bookstore, Catherine Lawrence and Eric Papenfuse, for recommending me,” said Brubaker.

Catherine Lawrence credits Brubaker with redefining their 14-year old store as one of used, rare and out-of-print to one with a diverse and compelling collection of new releases that are handpicked by Brubaker. His tables, shelf displays and recommendations are fun and engaging, and the store’s social media is filled with shout-outs to Brubaker’s exceptional work by astounded and delighted customers. Lawrence says the proof is in the sales figures. Since Brubaker started at the store just nine months ago, new book sales have topped all other income, “an extraordinary transformation of the store’s role in the community, and an indicator of Alex’s keen ability to know just how to satisfy the ever-growing new-book-desires of local customers and bookstore-tourists alike,” said Lawrence.

“I’ll admit that I’m still somewhat new at this whole bookseller thing,” said Brubaker, “but I feel so lucky to be able to discuss the latest books – who’s flying under the radar, why this debut novel will rock your socks off – with customers and co-workers and get paid for it. It’s a surreal experience when you’re able to go to your job and introduce readers to Morgan Parker or László Krasznahorkai or Zinzi Clemmons or all of the other many, many wonderful authors working today.”

“I still have so much to learn about the industry and my market, but to be recognized for my efforts thus far is such an affirmation – and a lovely start to my bookselling career. I can’t wait to see what lies ahead in the years to come at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore.”

With her glowing recommendation of Brubaker for this award, Lawrence also said, “He demonstrates a tremendous passion for books and is himself an exceptionally gifted writer and reviewer, eager to share the best new book you should be reading on any topic. He’s committed to finding ways to change our midstate’s culture to value the best new writing. It’s not enough, for him, to spread the books on the tables – he is bringing young, edgy debut authors to town, and introducing them to an ever widening group of eager readers, of all ages.”

Before joining Midtown Scholar Bookstore, first as a junior staffer and events coordinator, and now the store manager, Brubaker was the editorial assistant at Rain Taxi Review of Books and the exhibit coordinator for the Twin Cities Book Festival in Minneapolis, MN. A graduate of Millersville University, he now calls Harrisburg home.

Brubaker will be recognized for this achievement at the Awards Banquet at the NAIBA Fall Conference on Saturday, October 7 in Cherry Hill, NJ.


Previous winners of the NAIBA Rep of the Year Award are:

2016: Kathy Rodgers of Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach, DE

2015: Sean Curran of Doylestown Bookshop in Doylestown, PA

2014: Michael Fortney of Chester County Book Company in West Chester, PA

2013: Alicia Michielli of Talking Leaves... Books in Buffalo, NY

2012: Rob Dougherty of Clinton Book Shop in Clinton, NJ

2011: Ellen Mager of Booktenders Secret Garden Children's Bookstore in Doylestown, PA


About Joe Drabyak

Joe DrabyakIn honor of NAIBA President and friend, the late Joe Drabyak, NAIBA has created the Joe Drabyak Handseller of the Year Award to recognize booksellers who put their passion for books into practice with marketing and promotions.

Joe Drabyak was renowned in the industry for his creative promotional efforts. He could build excitement around any title with unusual events (have you heard about Joe's Nuts?), clever pairings, and handselling talent.

For Joe, a good book was a wonder to treasure. His wife, Reggie Painter, remembers: "He would often say to me while I was reading a good book, "Isn't it wonderful to have a good book to read?" Not only did Joe revel in the having a good book to read but got such a thrill out of putting it in the hands of someone else to enjoy as much as he did. He would sit at his lunch table at the store reading up to the very last second of his break. He could advise a customer on which new authors were not to be missed. He relished the advanced reader copies from publisher reps and most of all those precious manuscripts that authors would send him for his opinion. After reading one such manuscript, Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden, Joe told Mark that it would be nominated for a National Book Award. When it was nominated, Mark invited Joe to attend the National Book Awards Dinner at Atlantic Grove's table with Mark's wife, mother, Buzz Bizzinger, and Morgan Entreken," Reggie said. "It was the only time I would ever see him in a tux."

Joe captured the essence of a book with his witty quotes, which often appeared in a book's promotional campaigns. His skill creating non-author store events captured the unwary customer with enough intrigue to sell the book. He had a loyal following and even those who didn't know him would always pick up a Joe's pick, because they could confidently rely on Joe's solid recommendation alone.

There is a Joe inside many booksellers, and we want that spirit to stay alive and flourish. Nominate the bookseller in your life who shares their passion for books with customers in creative, fun, and unusual ways. Tell us a little bit about them and how they enhance the handselling experience. The winner will be recognized by their NAIBA colleagues at the Awards Banquet at the Fall Conference, and receive a complimentary packet of all the Fall Conference event tickets.