Local book sale goes strong for 56 years

Avid readers search for the best reads at the 56th annual used book sale by the Dowers Grove branch, American Association of University Women.

Avid readers search for the best reads at the 56th annual used book sale by the Dowers Grove branch, American Association of University Women.

Dense rows and stacked boxes of books line the Henry Puffer Elementary school gym with avid readers weaving in and out, looking for the best of the bunch.

Fiction, nonfiction, cookbooks and even volumes of Shakespeare were recycled into the 56th annual used book sale, run by the Downers Grove branch of the American Association of University Women.

The three-day event reaches readers in Downers Grove and the surrounding towns for the opportunity to buy good reads for $2 to $3 on the low end and up to the value of the book on the high end.

"The sale raises money for scholarships for women going back to school, but it’s mainly for local interest in the community,” said Sharon Maher, co-chairwoman and manager of the used book sale. “We have people who come here who can get really inexpensive books, and we really want to encourage reading.”

Marilyn Ellison, 67, said she loves this book sale the most though she visits quite a few every year. The fact that the proceeds go to something, in this case for scholarships, means much more, she said. Ellison told all of her friends to join her because of the great collections and the underlying cause.

Because many people read off of their devices, physical books tend to go out of circulation. Digital versions of every book are easily accessible, so people are willing to get rid the hard copy by just throwing it in the recycling bin, regardless of its condition. Barbara Norem, co-chairwoman and manager of the book collection, said that she is in charge of saving books in good condition for people who still desire physical copies.

“We sort these books throughout the year, starting in September,” Norem said. “We’re going to be back twice a month, or more, sorting the books, collecting the books, publicizing the books.”

The process of getting good quality books that are donated to the organization requires an exuberant amount of time and lots of manual labor. For these women, though, managing to save books is enough of a reward.

Maher said that a person could buy a book for $2 from this sale and a couple years later, that same book can be seen again in the sale because that person chose to recycle that book. Norem said that this kind of “recycling” is thoroughly encouraged.

Former Downers Grove AAUW president, Harriett Lindstrom said that not only do individuals donate old books, but book dealers, like Frugal Muse and Anderson’s Bookshop, come to buy books in bulk or donate to the organization.

“The book sale profits come from a lot of local book dealers and that’s kind of the bread and butter,” Lindstrom said. “If they don’t come and buy $200, $300 or $400 worth of books, then we don’t have a good sale. It’s advertised a lot by those booksellers and on the internet.”

Lindstrom and Norem said that these book dealers cannot only sell these books in store, but more are now selling them online for good prices, ranging from less than $5 and up to the value of the book, just like the sale.

This event successfully sustains a loyal consumer base, as opposed to any old bookstore, both price wise and through common interests. Some customers who visit are veterans of this sale, coming every year, without fail.

“It has always been the official start of summer in our household,” said Kelsey Steinbach, 26, who has been attending this event for as long as she can remember.

For others, there is great value in a sale like this, giving them an opportunity to incorporate these books into many aspects of their lives.

History teacher Keith Matune, 44, from Downers Grove, said he has attended this sale for 13 years: “I’m always able to get a couple great finds here, and they help me teach my class. One of the first years I came, I found an old 1929 yearbook from Downers Grove North high school. So that is what keeps me coming back, so I can find something unique and different, but still sentimental.”