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For the Love of Books: Community flocks to local book sale

The Friends of the Library host a book sale twice each year in Ithaca. The dates for the 2015 fall sale are Oct. 10-12, 17-19 and 24-27. (Credit: Emily Fedor/Ithaca Week)
By Emily Fedor and Ciara Lucas

For book lovers, the bi-annual book sale hosted by Friends of the Tompkins County Public Library is an event worth planning their lives around.

“People have planned their weddings around the book sale,” said Regina Lennox, a Friends of the Library board member. “[One couple] got married in the morning, came to the book sale after the ceremony and had the reception after the book sale.”

The book sale spans three weekends and is held once in the fall and once in the spring at the Friends of the Library headquarters. The 2015 fall sale is entering the last week of its run this coming weekend.

The first day of the sale resembles a rock concert as hundreds of people line the 500 block of Esty Street bright and early, waiting to gain entry to the building with thousands of items on sale. On the opening day of last year’s fall sale, more than 2,000 people attended the event.

“There are a number of people in the community who like to camp out overnight the day before,” said Beryl Barr, a coordinator of the book sale. “It’s become a real thing for them to come and do that and just love the pleasure of it.

The Friends of the Library was incorporated in 1946, and the first book sale was held in 1947. It started out as a few old books laid out on tables in a library. But it has grown exponentially over the years to say the least.

The book sale changed locations multiple times until the group bought their home at 509 Esty Street over two decades ago. Barr said the purchase of the warehouse building really helped the book sale grow. It’s large square footage allows them to house a massive stock of materials that include not only books, but magazines, CDs, VHS tapes, board games, sheet music, comic books and computer software.

“We have about 291,000-something items for sale this sale,” said Barr. “We are one of the biggest in the country. We are not the biggest, but we would be in the top 10.”


The event has gained popularity over the years with the avid community of readers in Ithaca and its surrounding areas, whom Barr credits with much of the book sale’s success.

“The community really supports this in a big way. They are wonderful,” said Barr. “They are really well-trained to come and buy books, read them and give them back to us. So we sell the same book many many times.”

One of those well-trained customers is Max Reich, a regular patron of the book sale. He said he came across books that he purchased at past sales and donated back while he was skimming through the shelves on the opening day of this year’s fall sale.

Reich is one of many patrons who come with a list of books in hand, but he said he also enjoys purusing through the impressive selection for items he didn’t make note of.

“It’s always surprising. I think that’s the reason why I like it because it’s always a surprise what you find,” said Reich. “You don’t always just find what you’re looking for, but you find stuff you never expected.”

The book sale is a special occasion for the community, but what is more special is what their support allows the Friends of the Library to accomplish.

The money made from the book sales fund the upkeep of the group and the building that houses the sale. It also supports multiple initiatives in the community. From the 2014 fall sale, $346,675 was donated to Tompkins County Public Library, Finger Lakes Library Systems, community organizations and small Tompkins County libraries.

Additionally, Friends of the Library helps fund grants that are given to community programs like Bright Red Bookshelf and the Family Reading Partnership.

During the course of the three weekend sale, it’s not uncommon for patrons to re-visit the sale as the deals get better. On the first day, the most expensive item on the floor is $4.50. Then the final day of the sale, “bag day,” and lets patrons fill a bag with books and and other items they may be interested in and pay one dollar for it all.

In the end, whatever doesn’t sell goes to different non-profit groups for a discounted price or is listed online. Then the whole process—taking donations, sorting, categorizing and stocking—begins again in preparation for what many people, including Lennox and the rest of the Friends of the Library crew, look forward to: the opening day of the next sale.

“It doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been here. That first morning, you look out and you go ‘I cannot believe what happens.’”

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