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The NAIBA Joe Drabyak Handseller of the Year Award
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Alissa duBois, Handseller of the Year

Booksellers curate on the store level and on the individual level, finding the right books for their community as well as the right book for each person who walks in the door.  An elite group that have turned their passion into careers. This year we recognize Alissa duBois of The Otto Bookstore as the Joe Drabyak Handseller of the Year, joining the elite of the elite.

DuBois is recognized for her keen observatory knack and an elegant and humorous personable style. Tim Hepp of Simon & Schuster says, “Alissa takes the time to learn each customer’s reading preferences, yet is always willing to recommend titles that stretch their minds and often their souls.  In an almost poetic fashion, she is a soul mate of Joe Drabyak.  She often takes money out of her own pocket to help customers purchase titles of which she is especially fond.”

DuBois was truly overwhelmed by the honor. Reading has been an integral part of her life journey. “It has provided escape, travel, experiences that I had and have not yet encountered. I could hold the whole world with its joys and sorrows in my hands. With the turn of a page, my spirit was nurtured and my humanity grew. I have laughed and cried (thanks to some authors all at the same time). I have met the string of words that pierced me with their beauty and truth. I believe that poetry offers a roadmap to life. Reading equals fun and solace to me.”

As all Drabyak handsellers report, a career in bookselling found them. DuBois is grateful to Besty Rider, the former owner of The Otto Bookstore, for hiring her so many years ago. Along with finding the right books for anyone who walks in the door, DuBois loves designing new displays, creating a welcoming environment for one and all, especially the tiniest readers, and the end result is a truly grateful bookseller.

“I am honored to be recognized by my peers in our beloved industry. I would not even begin to be worthy of this without the faith of Betsy Rider, my beloved customers, my incredible publishing reps and our fabulous new owners, Katie Nassberg and Isak Sidenbladh. I must acknowledge our Williamsport community, for they have supported The Otto Bookstore for all these years; to them, I am especially grateful.”

“To quote Neil Gaiman, “What I say is, a town isn’t a town without a bookstore. It may call itself a town, but unless it’s got a bookstore, it knows it’s not fooling’ a soul.”  My wish is for books to ever remain as part of our world and for all bookstores to thrive. The truth is that all booksellers deserve this recognition. I am only one among many. Peace, love and books.”


Jean Aiello, Lifetime Achievement Award

In an industry that must expound the ability to build a career as a bookseller, it is a pleasure to recognize Jean Aiello with a lifetime achievement award for her 48 years in bookselling.

Aiello began working for the University Store (known then as Pitt Book Center) as a Pitt student in 1970 and became a full-time employee in 1972.  She supported the mission and research of virtually every department and unit within the University of Pittsburgh. She retired in June 2018.

“I can't even put into words how thrilled and honored I am.  I have championed for NAIBA from the very beginning so this award means so much to me.” 

Current University Store staff member John Burns said, “Jean’s ability to spot what will sell is instinctive, amazing, and a bit scary. She could walk through the store, spot a customer,  know what the customer wanted, and we all watched that customer walk out with a book.  It was great fun to watch. Jean has always excelled at doing what was best for customers while meeting the financial needs and requirements of the University Store.”

Parson Weems sales rep Linda Cannon noted that “Jean Aiello has seen the evolution of our business from the days of 3x5 index cards as inventory control all the way to Edelweiss and came through it all.  I wish we could download her amazing bank of knowledge.”

Former bookstore staffer Dwight Fong said “Jean is certainly worthy of an honor for her long years as an excellent Pitt bookstore employee. She was terrific at handling requisitions from university departments for books and other items carried in the bookstore. Plus, Jean gets requisitions for other books and items not in the bookstore that sometimes requires considerable research to locate sources. Jean does this exceptionally well, efficiently and accurately.”

Tim Hepp of Simon and Schuster concurs that “Jean was always a bright spot in every sales reps call. Her great humor, passion for books and all around great attitude always made a trip to Pitt a treat.  She will be missed, but she is looking forward to her next adventure.”

Aiello shared these thoughts with us: “You have no idea how thrilled I am about everything.  When I retired a month ago I thought that was it, but to be recognized by NAIBA means the world to me.  I was the one at the store always asking that we be members and I went to the conferences when I was able to. I knew I had to be there to learn and meet people. It just meant so much to me to spend time with other booksellers and the sales reps.  The NAIBA conferences were so much better than any other industry conference for me.”

Previous winners of the NAIBA Joe Drabyak Handseller of the Year Award are:

2017: Alex Brubaker of Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, PA

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.