In this issue:  (CLICK TO JUMP!)

Behind the scenes at Bill Clinton’s

 

visit to

 

Eso Won Books

 

 

 

Photo credits: Top left Photo:  Tracee Hall, Top Right Photo:  Howard Bingham, Bottom Photos:  Isidra Person-Lynn

 

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#97 July  2004 - An Online Monthly News Service by www.BlackBusinessExpo.com  

From Isidra Person-Lynn, Expo Media Director

Behind the scenes at Bill Clinton’s visit to

 

Eso Won Books:

The Wrath of the Autograph seekers   

--by Isidra Person-Lynn

As business owners, we are often ecstatic when our ships come in—the big account, the big event, the big client.  But, Eso Won Books found out recently what Mama used to say:  “Be careful what you ask for.” 

It was a happy day when Eso Won Books owners James Fugate and Tom Hamilton received the call from Random House asking if June 26 would be a good day to have a book signing.  “As she calmly put it, ‘for one of our authors,’” Fugate said, knowing full well this was a big one—the coveted Bill Clinton book signing for his book “My Life” that was about to be released.

For this honor, Eso Won was not just picked out of the hat.  Hamilton and Fugate had to draft a proposal for how they would handle the Clinton signing and why it would best be staged at their south west Los Angeles store. Ultimately it was Bill Clinton’s staff that decided to host it at Eso Won, which confirms what many believed: Clinton was making a statement.  He wanted Black owned businesses to get some of the glory.  After all, he had already had his first signing at Hue-man Books in Harlem, the city where he insisted on having his office.

Although he was on his way to the Chicago Book Convention the night of the call, Fugate and his partner began making plans immediately.  It was important that they contract with black owned businesses, so they contacted Ron Brown and his security agency because he had helped them organize numerous other book signings in the past.  They contacted esteemed photographer Howard Bingham to shoot the event, which was appropriate since he is also a featured author and he has photographed Muhammad Ali and many other dignitaries all over the world.  Instead of a caterer, though, staff prepared the food that the secret service, security and staff swollen to 25 for the day, used to keep themselves energized.

He contacted the major black press with the specific details as laid out in the Random House generated press release, but only the Sentinel ran a blurb about the fact that the event was about to happen.  KJLH’s Jacquie Stephens ran a telephone interview with Fugate with the details, however.

The preparations were made.  The stage was set.  And when the mass media made the announcement that Bill Clinton would be at Eso Won, the phones rang incessantly.  From the interview with NPR, to the article in the Los Angeles Times, all the TV news organizations ran the story, the word was out.  Only problem is, white fans of Clinton called and learned of the Random House plan to provide tickets to the event (which was in fact pre-selling the books since the ticket would be exchanged for the book.) Since black folk live here, many mistakenly assumed they would buy their books at Walmart or Costco for the discount, get in line extra early and take their chances. 

 “From day one, we took 800 calls a day,” said Fugate. “I think the majority of people knew the Will Call system we were using.  We posted the information at  www.esowonbooks.com and our voicemail featured a  very detailed explanation of the Will Call System, and was recorded by actress CCH Pounder.

But things were not going to go according to plan.  In fact, by mid week of the signing the plan was changed by Clinton’s office and Eso Won was asked to stop pre-selling tickets, and allow patrons to call in the day of the event only, to gain access.   Although fans were discouraged from spending the night outside, some camped out across the street anyway, and apparently did not get word of the system, which was tantamount to calling a radio station you had to redial and redial to get through.  Someone started a sign in sheet but it was unofficial, and may have caused more consternation.  At some point when it was realized that white people were being allowed inside, some in the crowd grew angry and began chanting to boycott Eso Won, mistakenly thinking there was some kind of conspiracy.  To make matters worse, the local stores began towing cars where people had parked all up and down La Brea, (exacerbated perhaps by an announcement had been made in the L.A. Times that customers could park in the Ralph’s and other lots, but an errata was published after the fact.)

Things were a mess and of course, the news cameras were there to capture the frustration.

A friend excitedly alerted me early Saturday morning.  “Girl, turn on the news.  Clinton is coming to Eso Won and my sister who is down there called me from her cell and says it is a zoo.”  By the time I rolled down LA Brea to get a picture of the crowds everything was organized and patient, perhaps because the customers started organizing themselves.

“I saw a security guard with the sign in sheet and he was yelling off names.  I was wondering where did he get this from? I thought that was pretty impressive but then I found out it was unofficial,” said Fugate.

The frustration grew as 90% of the thousands that were there did not have tickets.  The police went out there to line them up in single file along the side of the mall and the line stretched around the block. Once started, it went very fast.   Inside, things were going very smoothly. Clinton reportedly hugged and shook hands and was very accommodating to the patrons.  But outside, the anger, heat and indignation at a point erupted into chants of “Boycott Eso Won.”

All of that negativity saddened Fugate and his staff, but they tried to remain calm about the volatile situation.  “We have had to rise to many big occasions before with the book signings of Johnnie Cochran and Patti Labelle…the list goes on. We used Ron Brown on occasion before when the publisher asked for security and we have never had a physical altercation.  The staff is well strained and expert at crowd control.  There are always confrontations, always people who get upset, but we have always handled things without them turning into a yelling match.”

When asked if perhaps black people felt a sense of ownership since Eso Won is the premier black book store in Southern California, James said “That may be.  But I saw many who clearly had books they obviously bought from Walmart and Costco yelling, screaming “But James you know me!”  That is not support.’

But overall, the arrival of Clinton brought cheers and some were happy with just a glimpse of him strolling inside, waving. Almost 2000 left happy, with books signed by the beloved former president. 

Eso Won had to beef up its staff and many volunteered for the day’s event, and for that he was thankful he could get volunteers.  “We had 25 people, volunteering and helping that day, more than enough requests to volunteer…everybody wanted to work that day.  We could have used people before hand.  A few days swamped with everything that had to be done…would have been more helpful.”

"But when the president’s office called and asked us to stop selling pre tickets and change to a new system, they threw a monkey wrench into out plans.

"Since the books were now going to be sold by phone on the day of the event, that caused a lot of problems. About 100 minutes after the phones were opened, they were sold out.  People couldn’t get through and they accused us of not even answering the phones.

“I didn’t think it would end up being as negative in many people’s minds,” lamented Fugate.  “People who got books liked it and those who couldn’t get in felt there were at least a hundred different ways to handle  things.  President Clinton signed almost 2000 books in 5 and a half hours.  He ended up leaving before 200 people got their books signed. His staff felt that he had already signed enough and they thought we had oversold books and that we were abusing Clinton.

“That meant I had to go outside and play the bad guy, to let people know that he would be leaving.  Many understood, but there were some…,”  he said, his voice trailing.  He recounted the story about one lady who cried for 3 or 4 hours-- a little Asian lady—who  said she had slept across the street and some of her party did get in but she didn’t, and she was just crying.”

“In retrospect we should have had more security than we had because we had between 3 and 7 thousand people here.  While the secret service and LAPD wanted more, I didn’t think it was necessary but they were right. With 7000 people that creates a near riot situation and that is what I was afraid of all along. If we had had more people, the lines would have moved a bit faster.  Some in the front of the line lent a hand and helped out.  We learned a lot from it.”

“It was sad in a way to me.. These are adults and the obsession level in getting a signature by someone is sort of sad when you invest all of this energy in a signature….

"I was really surprised at Cliff and Janine (KJLH Morning Team).  I couldn’t believe that Cliff and Janine went on the air saying no one they knew got in and that perhaps a petition should be circulated to Random House to keep us from getting the book signings we get.

"But on the good side, CCH Pounder was a great help and Councilman Ludlow’s office was helpful.  So many pulled together to help the day along. 

With “all eyez” on Eso Won, was it worth it? “It always helps to get a lot of attention; it helps to put a store on the map."  But, did all the attention translate into more business for the book store?  “Not really.  Summer is really slow. The book sale itself was great, but the week after it’s been business as usual."

 For more stories:

 http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/06/23/politics/main625808.shtml

 http://www.laweekly.com/ink/04/32/a.php For Erin Aubrey Kaplan’s Story int he L.A. Weekly.

Eso Won Books:  www.EsoWon.com  (323) 294-0324

Top left Photo:  Tracee Hall

Top Right Photo:  Howard Bingham

 

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