In Defense Of Dealers

It’s a tradition almost as old as the Westport Library Book Sale itself:

Complaining about the dealers who camp out in line, swarm the tents and scoop up hundreds, even thousands, of books, while You and I just try to find the perfect paperback.

But there’s another side to the story.  Don’t judge a book by its cover, say library officials.

The “dealers” — who include second-hand resellers, rare book collectors and non-profit agencies — are an important part of the event.  Friends of the Library makes over $100,000 from the book sale.  That money pays for a wide variety of programs, special events and collections.

Without the dealers’ bulk purchases, there’s no way the Friends would reach 6 figures.  In fact, they account for nearly 50 percent of total sales.

All is calm before the Westport Library book sale. It's a different scene Saturday morning.

The dealers come from all over the East Coast, says Mimi Greenlee, the longtime and indefatigable book sale chair.  Some own stores; others sell on the internet.

They come to 3 big Connecticut sales:  Westport, Pequot in Southport, and CH Booth in Newtown.  Ours is particularly attractive, Mimi says, because of the high quality of books.  “They know the type of community Westport is — and the great type of donations we receive.”

But the dealers are not always attractive to “regular” book sale-goers.  There were 450 people waiting outside when the tent flaps opened last year.  Many were dealers.  They race through on Day One — and keep coming, especially on half-price Mondays  and everything-free Tuesdays.

Greenlee knows the dealers don’t have a 5-star reputation.  “Some people think they get in the way, block the aisles and just take as many books as they can.”

That’s why, she says, there are rules against “scooping of shelves.”

That’s also why the book sale has staked out a special area in the back of the tents, where dealers can go through the piles of books they picked up on their first pass.  Volunteers restock those unwanted books quickly.

“Dealers are very important to our sale,” Greenlee emphasizes.  “But we also work hard to manage them, so they don’t impact you and me.”

And, she notes:  “If you go to a used bookstore, or shop on Amazon for a low price, where do you think those books came from?”

In fact, she adds, “what they do is no different from what the library book sale does.  Both of us collect used books, and resell them.”

Oh, yeah:  Not all the dealers are in it for themselves.  Some of those guys (and gals) with the biggest boxes represent non-profits.  They send what they’ve collected to Africa, Asia, Russia — and prisons here in the US.

Over 17 years, the Westport Library book sale has exploded.  It started as a tiny indoors event.  Then there was one small tent outside.  Now there are 5 tents on Jesup Green — and overflow in the McManus Room.

The book sale starts this Saturday (July 16, 9 a.m.), and runs through Tuesday.

Don’t worry.  There’s enough for everyone.

And if you happen to be looking for a special volume, and can’t find it — hey, there’s always used book stores, and the internet.

(Ever wanted to see a YouTube video of the book sale?  Click below.)

2 responses to “In Defense Of Dealers

  1. Don Willmott

    I’ve asked before: why not make even more money by charging admission on a decreasing scale as time passes? $50 for the first hour; $25 at the second hour, etc. There seems to be plenty of demand!

  2. More importantly, ban the bizzare practice of allowing people leaving boxes as “placeholders”. The premium book offered this year was a signed Warhol book with original artwork- advertised as first come, first served, to be sold in the room where special editions were held.

    At the front of the line for entry to that area was a box, marked as #1 and #2… this was dated June 24, 4 weeks in advance of the sale!!!

    A local man arrived on the 1st day of sale 4am, the only person around, and proceeded to wait at the front of the line, by the entry door. In subsequent hours he received verbal abuse from those who left box placeholders weeks in advance, was approached by representatives from the Friends of the Library that he was violating the rule and would not be granted access, was subjected to snarky comments from the Fire Marshall on site from the Westport Fire Department, and in the minutes before openning even approached by organizers (accompanied by Westport Police) and told he was not going to be permitted to purchase the Warhol.

    The man acted reasonably, held his ground, insisted that he arrived first and should be served first, and after a 5 hr wait, when the doors openned at 9am, enterred first, ahead of the person with placeholder 1 & 2 (who had the audacity to arrive at 8:53 and insist that it was her priviledge to enter first), and he proceeded to purchase the Warhol.

    The box placeholder system must be repealed. Sell raffle tickets or someting (that way, generate more $$$ for the charity). At a minimum, clarify wording on the vague signs posted (reads “neither endorses nor discourages” which makes no sense… should read “neither endorses or condones”. )