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Chapter XX: Friends book sale enters third decade more popular than ever

By Jackie R. Broach
Coastal Observer

When the Friends of the Waccamaw Library open their 20th annual book sale at 6 p.m. tonight, hundreds of book lovers will pour through the doors, looking for literary gold.

Rain, shine or stifling heat and humidity, many of those people will have waited in line outside St. Paul’s Waccamaw United Methodist Church for more than an hour. Some will have even planned their vacations around the event.

“It’s always a summer highlight,” said Linda Ketron, who has volunteered with the sale since it was introduced in 1991, just one year after the library opened.

But no one ever expected it to become such a highly anticipated and successful event.

“It was always a big deal to the library Friends, but their numbers were nowhere near what they have become now,” Ketron said. “We’d probably been having the sale for four or five years before word started getting around, and a couple of years after that before it really became a major event.”

The Friends group has grown to more than 400 members, many of whom pay the annual fee just to get a ticket to attend the sale’s opening night, for Friends only. About half of the books available at the sale — projected to be more than 9,000 this year — are sold during the two-hour opening.

Memberships are available at the door for $10 per person or $20 per family.

The sale opens to the public on Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., and Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon.

Hardbacks sell for $3 and mass market paperbacks are 50 cents.

The very first book sale actually took place before Waccamaw Neck had a library, though the Friends don’t include it in their anniversary count. It was more of a precursor, they say, planned as a one-time event to raise money to buy books for the proposed library.

That three-day sale in July 1988 at the Litchfield Exchange raised $2,200.

Later, an annual sale was proposed to help the library purchase books, videos, CDs and eventually computers.

The sale now supports children’s programming and raises about $11,000 annually.

The earliest sales took place in the back of the library, where there was empty shelf space, then moved to its community meeting room, a much smaller space than St. Paul’s.

“It was tight,” Ketron recalled. “They had all the tables the library had set up in rows. To measure how much distance we had to have between them, we had two people stand back-to-back and bend over to make sure they didn’t knock each other over.”

There wasn’t room to display all of the 3,000 or so books collected for the sale, so boxes of books were stacked beneath the tables and monitors would replenish the selection on display as books were bought.

“One of the benefits was that people who came on Friday and Saturday didn’t feel they had missed the best of the selection.”

For a while, the book sale seemed to be accompanied by torrential rain every year. Ketron said she spent many a day running across the parking lot with an umbrella in hand and jelly sandals on her feet, getting drenched as she helped shoppers get their purchases safely stashed in their vehicles.

“They would have their arms absolutely filled with bags of books and no arm free to open the car door or hold an umbrella, and they didn’t want to get their books wet,” she said.

Ketron also served as “sergeant at arms” for a time, keeping booksellers out of the sale. They were once banned, something that came about because people who sold books at flea markets would buy memberships and be first in line on Friends night, buying crates of books at a time.

“They’d go in and literally scoop all the cookbooks off the shelf; whatever they knew they could sell,” Ketron said. Not only did that deprive individuals of their chance at certain types of books, it meant the countless hours of sorting and arranging volunteers did in preparation for the sale were wasted.

“This is really labor-intensive work and people do it until their backs give out,” Ketron said.

Before its 10th anniversary, the sale had outgrown the library and was moved back to the Litchfield Exchange where its roots lie. It moved to its present location in 2001.

“Each year it seems to get better and it gets bigger,” said Fran Spencer, who was in charge of the sale for several of years.

Spencer thinks the secret to its success is the value shoppers get for their money.

“Our price is right and our books are clean,” she said. Book sale volunteers are very selective about the books that make to cut to be added to the sale inventory. Many are in like-new condition.

“We don’t have anything you wouldn’t want to take into your house,” Spencer said. “That’s important.”

The way the Friends sale is organized also sets it apart from other book sales, said Roz Breit, the sale’s current chairwoman. Books are separated into categories and arranged by author’s last name.

“I hear over and over from people who go to other big book sales that they’re all jumbled and you get frustrated,” she said.

A large selection of new releases, as well as old favorites are always available at the sale, and this year there will also be a collection of more than 100 LP record albums dating from the early 1940s.

At the first sale Breit attended, about 10 years ago, she said she was overwhelmed by the selection.

“It was like a small library,” she said. “I didn’t know where to look first.”

Breit’s first “treasure” found at the sale was a copy of “London” by Edward Rutherfurd. She’d wanted to read it and when she got it home, she discovered it was signed.

“I felt like a kid at Christmas,” she said. “I love books and they’re very precious to me, so it was very special that it was signed.”

She said she also likes coming across books that are signed by friends and family of the original owner. Those little notes, often containing thanks or well wishes, are “little pieces of a community’s history,” she said. “Even though you’ll probably never know that person, it’s a little bit of humanity that books bring to people’s lives.”

Ketron’s most memorable find was a complete set of works by Charles Dickens with gold-leafed pages, which she bought for $15.

Before eBay, the book sale used to be the place to go for hard-to-find books.

“I’ve seen books come through here that are worth a lot of money, certainly a lot more than we’re charging,” Spencer said. “A lot of first editions come through. We get beautiful art books, and we have some books that are over 100 years old.”

As always, opening night will include refreshments. Reusable bags donated by Bi-Lo in Litchfield will be handed out by store manager Marvin Burton.

For information, call the library, 545-3623.

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