There was a time when we didn’t have to chase the Friends of the Library Old Book Sale around on the calendar.
We knew when it was going to be and where it was going to be. Moving it would have been tampering with tradition.
It was a fixture near the end of February, an otherwise forgettable month. After the groundhog issued his weather report and Cupid delivered his arrows, we were treated to Macon’s largest annual literary yard sale.
I consider it one of the great joys of living in Macon. There are more than 100,000 titles at bargain prices. There are 35 tons of the printed word spread across tables in 75 different categories, a book lover’s paradise.
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After its departure from the early years at Westgate Mall, it was held in a couple of decrepit buildings at Central City Park. But crusty and dusty somehow added to the atmosphere of having all this ink under a collective roof for four days.
Then, two years ago, the winds of change swept through the park. The Long Building, which provided the front entrance to the sale, was condemned, eliminating half the space needed for the event.
That sent then-President Andy Newton and FOL board members scrambling for a suitable venue. They also had to relocate the FOL’s workroom on the first floor of the Washington Memorial Library and lease space in a building at Riverstreet Corners (formerly Riverside Plaza).
The book sale managed to land on its feet at the Centreplex, but it necessitated a switch from the third week in February to the third week in March. Because those dates fell during the Cherry Blossom Festival, the FOL decided to join the “pinkest party on earth.”
There were plenty of “up” sides to the move. The Centreplex was a newer facility with ample parking. And becoming a sanctioned festival event brought its own reward -- the opportunity to reach a larger audience.
Although there were benefits from the increased exposure, they also found themselves in competition with dozens of daily events.
In 2012, the sale collided with the festival’s opening weekend. Last year, it went head-to-head with the closing weekend. (And the FOL’s members preview party was held the same night as the Elton John concert at the Coliseum.)
“People were there for the festival, not to buy old books,” said Wendy Cassidy, president of FOL. “There was too much going on.”
Rent was steep at the Centreplex, costing about $10,000 for the week. That cut into the $92,000 raised by the nonprofit. About $60,000 was contributed to Bibb County libraries. Everything else went to cover costs. (Fortunately, the first year of online sales has generated an additional $17,800 in sales to 47 states, the District of Columbia, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom and Puerto Rico.)
Many of the FOL volunteers found themselves longing for a return to yesteryear, when the old book sale was on center stage, positioned in February between holidays and the onset of spring fever.
Some even missed being in the park.
“The Centreplex was nice, but a little sterile,” said Cassidy. “It didn’t have the same character. We missed the ambience.’’
When scheduling conflicts finally forced their hand this year, the FOL opted to return to the park and reclaim its familiar territory on the calendar. This year’s dates are Thursday through Sunday, Feb. 27 through March 2.
You can go home again.
There will be some noticeable differences. The condemned (white brick) Long Building is scheduled for demolition in the next few weeks. Its red-brick twin brother, which runs parallel on the left, is still habitable and will continue as the main sales floor.
The gateway to the sale is expected to run through the Round Building, and enclosed tents will be used as a walkway to connect the two buildings. The checkout lines (and exit) will be moved to the rear of the red-brick Long Building.
The old book sale, now in its 46th year, doesn’t just show up every year and recede when the shelves are cleared. About 40 volunteers spend two days a week pricing and sorting books. It takes some 400 volunteers to make sure all the pages turn during the week of the sale.
The FOL also will soon begin supplying books to Macon’s “Little Free Library,” which will be rolled out in March at six locations in the College Hill Corridor.
If you’re not familiar with this concept, made possible by a Knight Neighborhood Challenge grant, these mini-libraries are about the size of large birdhouses and operate as “take a book, leave a book” repositories.
The Friends of the Library has always been more than just ground support for local libraries. It is dedicated to improving the literacy rate in our community.
“Our goal is to put books in the hands of readers,” Cassidy said. “We want these books to have a ‘forever’ home.”
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.