In 2007, the first-ever Buffalo Small Press Book Fair drew about 1,000 people through the doors of the Karpeles Manuscript Library Museum on Porter Avenue to inspect the wares of some 65 vendors.
It was an auspicious debut for an annual event that's been drawing increasing attention to Buffalo's appetite for independent work from small presses, as well as its own substantial and unique publishing community.
And on Saturday, when the fifth version of the event opens its doors to the public, it will have more than doubled in size and scope, with 110 vendors and a flurry of related activities elsewhere in the city throughout the weekend.
The regional event, which draws vendors and book lovers from across the Northeast and some from even farther afield, was the brainchild of local artist and indie impresario Chris Fritton. He said he wanted to make the fifth anniversary of the growing event the most extensive yet.
"I really wanted the people who were coming in from out of town to get their money's worth. People are coming from Baltimore and Boston and Michigan and all these places. I wanted to give them a reason to stay for a couple days," he said.
The multiday affair kicked off Thursday night with a reading in Sugar City, an alternative art space in Allentown. The fair's pre-party is slated for tonight in the Western New York Book Arts Center (468 Washington St.), where Fritton manages the print shop. It will feature readers visiting from prominent small publishers, including poet Matvei Yankelevich of New York City's vaunted Ugly Duckling Presse, Adam Robinson of Baltimore's Publishing Genius and Rebecca Wolff of Fence, an Albany-based small press.
In addition to the rows of vendors showing off a range of work, from tiny editions of artist books and self-published comics to more polished and mass-produced reading material, the Karpeles Museum will also host a series of workshops throughout Saturday. These include a session on low-budget comics hosted by local comic artist Kyle Kaczmarczyk at 1 p.m., a panel on editorial models and the future of small press publishing (also at 1 p.m.) and a presentation of homemade zoetropes by Squeaky Wheel at 2:30 p.m.
At 6 p.m. Saturday, the party moves up the street to Sugar City (19 Wadsworth St.) for a related group art show meant to celebrate the release of "Cage Match," a collaborative zine put together by 14 local artists, of which Fritton is one. There will also be a low-key collection of bands playing at the Vault (702 Main St.) later in the evening.
For Fritton, the fair provides a rare opportunity to bring together artists, poets, writers, designers and others under one roof. The idea is to create a kind of creative synergy that allows artists to forge new associations with one another.
Many collaborations, he said, have already grown out of past fairs. He added that he hopes his egalitarian approach to programming the affair, in which almost any organization short of resume-writing companies are allowed, will help that trend continue to grow.
"I have no restrictions, I want everyone to be there," Fritton said. "Just watching what has happened over the last five years has been great. People expect the book fair now. They use it as an impetus for their own creation."