Author Stephen King said nothing smells as good as an old book. Maybe he should attend Westminster Presbyterian Church's 46th annual book sale this month.
Barbara Allan, former book sale chairwoman and volunteer of more than 30 years, shared some humor along with insights into the church's community fund-raiser:
UThe first sale in 1956 featured 2,000 books. This year, some 60,000 books, magazines, records and sheets of music go on sale. None are carried over from previous years.
UA tour of the church building reveals a room crowded with boxes of books stacked 10 feet high and 15 feet deep, a hallway lined with 75 boxes of magazines, another room with 13 boxes of paperbacks, and a walk-in pantry filled with cook and hobby books. All year, the books are sorted, priced and packed. "It keeps us off the streets and out of the bars," Allan joked.
UA van used to make community runs picking up donated books from various personal libraries. Insurance concerns led to the van's retirement and the current process: drop-offs at the church's back door. At the time of writing, however, a sign by that door read, "No more books."
UPeople start lining up at 6:30 a.m. sale day, hoping to have first crack at the old and unusual books when the sale starts at 9. "When the doors open, they rush in. We see people crawl under tables and open boxes not yet open," said Allan.
UOne morning a woman and man rushed to a table, grabbed the same bundled stack of three histories and started pulling. It took the minister to break it up. A drawing awarded the books to the woman, who turned out to be the wife of another Presbyterian minister.
UWomen used to run the sale exclusively since it began as the brainstorm of Hazel Thorne, a member of the Women's Association of Westminster Presbyterian. Then, the donations mounted and work became too heavy. Now, 36 people, mostly retired men and women, work the sale -- from preparation to execution -- year-round, said Allan. Four people coordinate most activities. "No one goes on vacation this time of year."
UWhen Allan first started in 1970, she was only permitted to dust the books. "Only three or four people could price the books," she said.
UIn the early days, three or four women decided which books to sell. "Any book with artwork with a nude was discarded," Allan said. "All the paperbacks -- you know how lurid those covers are -- well, they threw them away." Allan wanted to see for herself which books had been ditched one year. When she went to find them, she discovered the books had gone home with the ladies.
Treated like queens
UIn publicizing the sale one year, a few of the women, including Allan, spoke at a local radio station. "My husband took us and waited outside the studio," Allan recalled. "They treated us like queens. We said our piece and left. When I saw Bob, he told me the man who had been with us had come out and announced he was talking with 'a bunch of old women with a bunch of old books.'" Allan laughed. "He's still working there."
UPeople have written boasting of the "great finds." That's OK with Allan, who insists they hope to make their money on volume of sales. "They tell others, and more people come, so it's all right," she said.
UProceeds from the sale go to Protestant Family Service, Rescue Ministries, Needle's Eye, Fish Samaritan House, Interfaith Home Maintenance, Medical Benevolence, Hope House, the Nehemiah Program, Habitat for Humanity and repairs to Westminster Presbyterian Church.
UThe sale will be at 119 Stadium Drive, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. April 24, and 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., April 25 and 26.