Book bonanza: Bargains abound at annual sale, fundraiser for Public Library of Cincinnati & HamCo

CINCINNATI - Bargain-minded book, movie and music-lovers await it every year: the Friends of the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County book sale. The event brings 1,600 boxes books and other audio/visual items to the masses, at rock-bottom prices.

The 41st annual book sale is a week-long event at the Main Library. It will feature more than 50,000 items for sale, most costing between one and four dollars. Proceeds fund free programs for both children and adults at all branches and help restock library material.

According to Anne Keller, executive director for Friends of the Public Library, there's something for everyone, including:

  • fiction and non-fiction
  • paperbacks and hardcover books
  • CDs, DVDs and video tapes
  • vinyl LPs

Keller said she's seen people find extremely rare books, as well as items long wished-for items.

"For some people it surely is a treasure hunt," she said. "But we've had occasions where you can hear people exclaim from across the room: 'Oh, I've been looking for this forever!'"

Bucks for books, benefits for buyers

Last year, the six-day total for the sale came to more than $70,000, not bad when the price of the average item is less than four dollars.

Before 2005, the book sale was held on Fountain Square until major renovations forced the event indoors to the Main Library.

While organizers saw an initial decline in sales, Keller said the event has grown stronger than ever, as the controlled climate is a far better atmosphere for both shoppers and volunteers.

She explained all sale items in the library's atrium are divided into specific categories similar to those at bookstores. Besides payment options of cash and checks with IDs, shoppers can now use VISA and Mastercard which bring sales "out of the 1950s," she said.

"We've been doing this for 41 years and every year there's a refinement that we like to think helps the shopper," Keller added.

Making the most of the sale

For the first time since 1973, the book sale will open on a Saturday. According to Rick Helmes, public relations coordinator for Friends of the Public Library, organizers wanted to add a full weekend day to allow those who work during the week the opportunity to shop.

In addition, Helmes said he hopes the two-dollar all-day parking rate at the nearby Garfield Garage will encourage suburbanites to make the journey downtown.

As shopping strategy, Helmes said people often believe you must attend the first day of the sale in order to snap up the most coveted items. Not so, he explained; volunteers restock items daily. 

Helmes said volunteers receive and process more than 100,000 books and other items during the year. Some items are private donations or retired library materials. He said it's not uncommon to see customers come back over the course of the sale to check for new items.

"We're constantly restocking from our huge supply at the warehouse," he said. "I'd say there's probably 50 to 70 thousand items that are constantly changing down at the book sale all week."

Fueled by volunteers

More than 350 Friends of the Public Library volunteers will take shifts to carry off the event next week, explained Keller. She estimates 500 people work 10,000 hours a year either at the warehouse or at library events.

The non-profit group works in conjunction with the library, providing support in terms of funding and volunteer hours for the Cincinnati and Hamilton County branches.

After 25 years of both chairing and working the sale, volunteer Mary Lou Aft said she's still in awe of the support the sale gets from the people of Cincinnati. She said shoppers often tell her to keep the change as the event benefits such a good cause.

In addition to raising funds, Aft said the event grants books a second life, putting them back into readers' hands instead of a landfill. As part of the recycling process, books often come through the sale several times, she added.

"We have one volunteer who's actually put hash marks in a book because he said he's seen this book so often," she said. "He's been keeping count and he said he thinks we sold this book 12 times."

Besides getting great deals on books and other items, Aft said the event gives people a reason to go downtown and visit the Main Library. She said people who haven't seen the venue or haven't visited for years are always pleasantly surprised. She explained even though the event brings out droves of people, it never seems overwhelming.

"We're in such a big space, you're not really crowded. You're not elbow to elbow with people," she said. "There's just something here for everybody, you just have to come down and take a look.

Next page: hours and specials

If you go

The Book Sale runs from June 1-7 during normal Main Library hours.

  • Saturday: 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
  • Sunday: 1-5 p.m.
  • Monday-Wednesday: 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
  • Thursday: 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
  • Friday: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. 

Specials during the week

  • Monday through Wednesday: Friends of the Library members will receive a 50% off coupon to be used only once on their choice of days. Memberships can be purchased at the door.
  • Thursday: All merchandise will be half-off for both Friends members and non-members.
  • Friday: Bag Day. Buy a "Friends" shopping bag for $10 and everything you can get into it is yours. There is no limit on bags.

Call 513-369-6035 for more information.

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