DENVER — The Denver Public Library this year added two ways to purchase used books donated to the organization. In addition to the long-standing tradition of its biannual book sale, the library opened the Red Chair Bookshop inside the central branch and began online sales through Amazon.com.
The public donates about eighty percent of the used book inventory; the other twenty percent are library books no longer needed by the library, according to Laurie Romer, Denver Public Library Friends Foundation assistant director.
“We estimate that DPL receives about three million items per year. It’s really grown,” she said. “We sell those books in different ways. We have our two big sales in June and November. In April we started selling books online, on Amazon. Those tend to be the more valuable and obscure books. Of course, now we have the bookshop.”
The space for the bookshop, located on the west end of the south wing, was designed to be a gift shop when the new wing of the library opened 21 years ago. Patterned after a museum-like gift store, it lasted several years before the space was turned over to event programming. Programming moved, and the space became available.
“The foundation had wanted a used bookshop for a long while and had done lots of research on used bookshops in the area and in other states, to learn about that business,” Romer said. “Patron demand was another reason for opening it. Many out-of-town visitors without a library card would come to the library, see all these books, and want to take something home.”
Romer says the shop is doing very well so far, and that it’s met all expectations. The foundation bought new furnishings and invested in a few souvenir items, such as t-shirts, water bottles and coffee mugs, imprinted with the shop logo. “We’re very proud about how little money we spend. Volunteers run almost every shift, so it’s been very cost effective for us.
“We wanted a unique name for the bookshop,” Romer said. “There is a piece of public art on the north lawn, ‘The Yearling,’ a big red chair with a horse standing on the seat. Everyone knows and loves the red chair, so Red Chair Bookshop was a name we all could agree on. We have two red chairs in the shop, and a red table with stools for little kids.”
The prices of most books in the bookshop range from $ 3 to $ 5 with children’s books starting at $ 2. Prices are determined by condition and rarity and whether they are a first edition or signed by the author.
Bookshop patron Joanna Negler and her children, Eleanor and Paikea, had browsed the bookshop and were on their way downstairs to search for children’s books and do some holiday shopping. “We love the book sales and we try to come every year,” Negler said. Paikea said her favorite part of the sale is “books.”
The Friends Foundation presently has five staff members; two are dedicated to the used book operation. “During our two big sales, we have about 350 volunteers; on a regular weekly basis we have about 25,” Romer said.
Patrons may choose from about 30,000 books kept in stock during the twice-yearly book sales. Biannual book sales moved permanently from the library’s north lawn to the library’s basement conference center two years ago, after torrential rains collapsed a tent during that June event.
Besides all manner of books, the three library shops sell audio books, DVDs, CDs, records, and computer games on CD or DVD; and textbooks less than three years old. The library receives donations every day, so the variety of items on hand changes every day.
The online storefront started in April. The Foundation has about 1,500 books available on the Amazon storefront, with the goal of posting 5,000. “It’s going gangbusters,” said foundation accountant Melinda Lloyd. “From April through the end of October, sales totaled about $ 51,000.”
Last year the library brought in about $ 100,000 between the June and November sales. “With that, our online sales and the bookshop, revenue will be more this year,” Romer said. “It’s too soon to gauge how much the Red Chair Bookshop will earn on a regular basis.” Proceeds are returned to the library and go into the collection budget to buy more materials.
Sorting through three million donated items is a challenge. Romer says they have a core group of book sorters who go through all those boxes. To get an idea of the value, they scan UPC codes to see what the items sell for on Amazon. Two of their staff members are quite knowledgeable about books.
Romer says readers will be surprised to find how many books look brand new. “We call them used books, but there are novels in the shop that are still on The New York Times bestseller list. I think they were read once and donated. You would never know they weren’t brand new—and we often find some real treasures.”
A first edition book signed by William Faulkner was discovered about a year ago. It was worth a few thousand dollars. “We had another book signed by George Harrison and several other musicians, and that recently sold for a thousand dollars.”
Financial support for staff and expenses is funded by the city. The Friends Foundation provides all the extras. “We say that we make a good library a great library,” Romer said.
“We help to support technology classes; we have the ideaLAB where kids and adults can experiment with electronics, sound and video equipment and music. The foundation supports the summer reading program that attracts about 40,000 kids each year.
“We also donate a fair amount to other nonprofits: schools, nursing homes, prisons and other organizations. In addition, we have a vendor who buys books from us by the ton or by the box, and he resells those.”
Damaged or molding items go into recycling. “We try our hardest not to throw anything away, and we don’t want people to throw any books away,” said Romer. “We’re able to put these donated books back into the community at low prices. That encourages reading. People buy them, read them, donate them back, and we sell them all over again. We think of it as ultimate recycling.
“We have families that come in here and buy boxes and boxes of books for only $ 50. Teachers buy books for their classes.”
The Friends Foundation began in the 1940s. “We have an endowment and we raise money for the library,” Romer said. “I think we’re one of the oldest ones in the country.” The library also raises money with a black tie gala in October, direct mail, and Colorado Gives day.
The Red Chair Bookshop, at 10 W. 14th Ave., is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Romer said she hopes to expand hours as more volunteers receive training to run the shop. To buy books online, visit https://goo.gl/mVAA8W.
To donate, bring up to two boxes of items to any DPL branch library (each box must weigh 25 pounds or less). More than two boxes? Call 720-865-1705 to arrange a time to bring items directly to the central branch loading dock.
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