Ready, set, read!
By J. Chambless
A small army of volunteers is needed to make the book sale happen each year.
On Feb. 22 and 23, the Unionville High School gym will be the premier bookworm destination when the 23rd annual Used Book Sale opens for business. Books, music CDs, DVDs and video games are offered for sale at bargain prices.
Shoppers will find rows and rows of tables neatly organized with signs designating more than 30 categories, such as children’s, adult fiction, travel and cooking. Within those areas, books are carefully grouped for easy shopping. Fiction books are alphabetized by author. The 15,000 or so children’s books are grouped by recommended age.
The speed in transforming the gym for the sale is remarkable. It's used for regularly scheduled classes right up until Thursday evening, and on Friday afternoon the book sale is open to the public. By Saturday night, it magically disappears, and the gym looks like the event never took place.
The sale takes an enormous amount of planning and hard work. Committee chair Angela Blecher manages a volunteer staff of more than 300 students, parents and community members to make this all happen. Blecher, a 17-year resident of the district and parent of a current UHS sophomore, has been running this major PTO fundraiser for three years. “We’re a pop-up Barnes and Noble,” she proudly said.
Collection efforts kick off with the January neighborhood drive, when students pick up boxes of books donated by residents. Items are also collected from dealers and auction houses. Additionally, there is a drop-off box outside the cafeteria where residents can donate anytime.
Over the next month, each book is examined for category sorting, condition, age and pricing. Books are then placed in boxes by category and sub-category and stored on pallets for the big event. Last year, 80,000 books were offered, with most priced between $25 cents and $5.
Older books are sent to the Collectibles area, where a specialist looks for first editions and autographed items. Many years ago, Thomas Macaluso, the proprietor of Macaluso’s Rare and Fine Books, Maps, and Prints in Kennett Square, helped train volunteers in determining value.
Sometimes there are interesting finds. This year, an auction house donated (possibly by accident) an autographed copy of Robert Kennedy’s “The Pursuit of Justice,” which will be sent to Swann’s Auction house, where it is expected to fetch between $800 and $1,200.
Then there are the more routine bookmarks left in donated books, such as ticket stubs, photographs, checks and paper money. “The best place to find cash is the Bible. Go figure,” Blecher said.
On the night before the sale, the UHS football team covers the gym floor with a protective covering, moves in 200 long tables with category designations, and 1,200 boxes of sorted books, CDs, DVDs and video games. Then on Friday, volunteers place the sorted items on the tables.
The first day of the sale is the busiest. This is also the day when pre-registered resellers come in and buy in bulk.
“We have large-volume dealers that have been coming for years, from up and down the coast,” Blecher explained. The sale is advertised on Booksalefinder.com, a website for serious dealers and collectors.
The sale continues on Saturday morning and culminates with the bag sale, where each customer is given a bag to fill for a flat $10 fee. The leftovers are collected for various requesting charitable agencies, and the rest is boxed up and sold by the pound to book wholesalers. The whole cleanup takes under two hours.
Blecher is spurred on by her love of reading and wants to encourage everyone to pick up a book, especially children. Each child from every district elementary school and many area daycares is given a special bookmark, which can be redeemed at the sale for a free book. “It’s great seeing kids coming in,” Blecher said. “There’s a lot of pride in picking out that book.”
Last year’s sale raised a record $50,000 for the PTO’s Enrichment Projects Fund at the high school. Teachers can request special equipment and supplies from the fund that are not included in the taxpayer-funded school budget. For example, previous book sale proceeds were used to purchase items such as sound systems, lab equipment and woodworking machinery.
Book donations will be accepted right up to, and during, the sale via a drop box by the cafeteria door. And there is still time to get involved in the event through volunteering.
“It’s a community event, right from the start,” Blecher said. “We love alumni, we love people from the community. You don’t have to be a high school parent.”
The book sale takes place on Friday, Feb. 22 from 4 to 9 p.m., and Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., with the $10 bag sale from 2 to 4 p.m. For more information, visit www.uhsbooksale.org/our-event.