Tag Archives: Mimi Greenlee

Unsung Heroes #57

Last week’s Westport Library Book Sale went off without a hitch.

Thousands of visitors bought tens of thousands of books. And CDs, DVDs, even LPs.

The library earned thousands of dollars. Even yesterday — when everything was free (contributions gladly accepted!) — the library earned something just as important: grateful good will.

One scene from last weekend’s Book Sale.

But as easy as it all seemed — hundreds of volunteers hauling boxes, posting signs, pointing patrons in the right direction, smilingly totaling up purchases, answering idiotic questions (“Do you have …?”), handling setup, security and cleanup; volumes sorted superbly into categories from Art to Zoology; no problems despite the loss of the library space itself during the Transformation process — none of it would be possible without a few great leaders.

Mimi Greenlee and Dick Lowenstein are the Book Sale co-chairs.

Suzy Hooper and Heli Stagg have full-time library roles, in addition to their Book Sale duties.

They lead with inspiration — and by example. They give new (and literal) meaning to the phrase “heavy lifting.”

This is not the only Westport Library Book sale, either. There are others, in winter and spring. None would happen without the many volunteers — and these 4 at the helm.

(From left) Heli Stagg, Suzy Hooper, Mimi Greenlee and Dick Lowenstein yesterday. They don’t even look tired! (Photo/John Karrel)

We hope Mimi, Dick, Suzy and Heli enjoy being this week’s Unsung Heroes.

But they probably won’t see it. They’re finishing up last weekend’s book sale.

And starting work on the next.

(Hat tip: John Karrel. Want to nominate an Unsung Hero? email dwoog@optonline.net)

It Takes A Village To Make A Book Sale

It takes a village to raise a child.

And it takes a small city — well, 300 to 400 people anyway — to run the Westport Library’s annual Book Sale.

The tents are already up for the July 15-18 event. That’s done professionally.

A typical scene at the Westport Library Book Sale. (Photo/Westport Library)

But nearly everything else — hauling boxes, unboxing books, shelving, signage, on-site help, line control, security, checkout, cleanup and takedown — is done by volunteers.

They converge on Jesup Green from all corners of town (and beyond). They come in all shapes and sizes (and ages). They represent the Y’s Men, Staples Service League of Boys, National Charity League, the Gillespie Center and a local addiction recovery house.

Some are giving back to their community. Some are performing court-ordered community service. Some love the library, or books in general. Some welcome a chance to socialize.

All are welcome.

One of the book sale’s many volunteers.

Mimi Greenlee is the longtime c0-chair of the Book Sale. She’s also one of those uber-volunteers who epitomize the saying, “If you need something done, ask a busy person.”

Since moving here in 1971 with her husband Chuck, Mimi has raised 4 kids; taught at Burr Farms Elementary School; served with the Westport Young Woman’s League, United Way, Westport Soccer Association and a slew of PTAs, and run the Westport Downtown Merchants Association art show.

Still, the Book Sale is special. It’s a true community event, with that huge volunteer/collaborative component.

“It’s like a puzzle. I love watching the pieces come together,” Mimi says. “And every piece is a person.”

Nothing ever rattles Mimi Greenlee — not even the controlled chaos of the Westport Library Book Sale.

As the book sale grew — from one tiny table in the McManus Room, to an outdoor tent, to the many tents now on Jesup Green — so did the need for help.

Suzy Hooper gets the volunteers for the 9 days it takes to set up, run and take down the event.

There’s a job for everyone. Some of it is very physical. (“Those Y’s Men put me to shame,” Mimi marvels.)

Some can be done sitting down — even in a wheelchair.

Mimi, Suzy and the library staff have it all down to a science. Last year, it took just one hour from the end of the sale Tuesday, until everything was packed away.

“We get everyone,” Mimi says. There’s a man from New Canaan who arranges his travel schedule every year to do this. There are people who volunteered when they were living in the homeless shelter just across the way. Now they’ve got housing, but they still want to help.”

Mimi invites everyone to the book sale. It starts Saturday, July 15 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m.); continues Sunday, July 16 (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.), Monday, July 17 (9 a.m. to 5 p.m., half-price day), and ends Tuesday, July 18 (9 a.m. to 1 p.m.; everything is free, but contributions are welcome).

And if you’d like to volunteer on the sale days — or help with the book sorting process throughout the year — just email shooper@westportlibrary.org, or click here.

Sunday By The River

The jury is out.

Not on the art — the judges’ decisions come later — but on the 38th annual Westport Arts Festival itself.

It’s been held on the river edge of Parker Harding Plaza and adjacent Gorham Island for a couple of years now.  Before that, it was held in the middle of Main Street.

Some artists like the new location.  A cooling breeze blows off the river, and the setting is much more scenic than before.

Other artists — not so much.  They say there’s less foot traffic, less energy, and lower sales.

Of course, you can also blame the economy.

Or the gorgeous weather that sends folks scurrying to the beach, not the business district.

Judge for yourself.  Both the site, and the art displayed there.

A photographer -- and potential customer -- takes a shot of some intriguing art.

Intriguing sculptures line Gorham Island.

This is not a sculpture. It’s a living statue. I’m sure this guy was much happier standing by the river — not the middle of Main Street — for hours on end.

A youngster finds artwork less interesting than a large tree, stuck in the middle of the Saugatuck River.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Post Road, the ever-smiling Mimi Greenlee oversees the controlled chaos that is the Westport Public Library's summer book sale.

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.)