Published October 16, 2014
Westport Friends (Quaker) 53rd Annual Used Book Fair
938 Main Road, Westport, MA
July 12, 2014
11 AM - Sunset and for the next two weeks...
The Westport Friends Meeting (Quaker) calls their annual book fair its signature fundraiser of the year. That signature is as bold as John Hancock’s on the Declaration of Independence. Early in the morning of the second Saturday of July every year, Meeting members and volunteers lay out 20,000 used hard and soft cover books under two venerable yellow and white striped tents in front of the Friends Meeting House.
Like bees to pollen, hundreds of book lovers assemble around the tents waiting for the opening whistle. At precisely 11 AM, they surge into the tents, a swarm of acquisitive shoppers with bags at the ready. Everybody wins here. Bibliophiles load up on a year’s worth of reading material. Cashiers take in money that will cover the annual costs of maintaining the historic Westport Meeting House (built in 1816) and their Macomber Community Hall next door.
For the first hour, you’d never guess by listening that several hundred men, women and children surround you and the 70 sturdy wooden folding tables under the tents. Like bees, shoppers are not noisy. But they do possess a bee-like GPS that leads them to the categories of books they’ll feed on for the next year. History, science fiction, philosophy, photography, cooking, mystery, biography, religion, travel, humor, romance, coffee table books - this is Amazon, Barnes and Noble and flea market all in one - at about 10% of the original retail price.
Shoulder to shoulder, they use a boarding house reach to pluck titles from the piles on each table. It’s decidedly polite, even shoppers are “Friends” today. The sun filtering through the yellow and white tents casts a golden glow over shoppers and books – perfectly heavenly, and the smell of old books is the accompanying incense.
Strategies abound, from the book dealers who grab an armload of books at a time to those with eagle eyes fixed on specific titles. Some bring lists. All bring an appetite for a good deal. The arm loaders exit the tent, rifle through their piles, take what they want and return the rest to the tables. Savvy searchers like Providence, RI bookseller Althea Grady go back for a second round after the first hour.
“The dealers don’t necessarily return books to the category tables they hauled them from so I look everywhere,” she says, with a knowing grin.
The Meeting House, filled with books priced at 25 cents apiece and 6 for a dollar, opens at 10 AM, sort of a way to prime the pump. Loaded with hundreds of children’s books, it’s a gold mine for kids and parents. What isn’t sold today will be moved to the tents at the end of the day. The weekly Friends Meeting is held at 10 AM the next morning, no need to be distracted by “Good Night Moon” during the spiritually reflective hour-long meeting.
The sale continues for the next two weeks. As the books dwindle in number they are consolidated until all but a few tables of books remain. The cash business uses the honor system – a coffee can in which you calculate what you owe from the price written inside the cover and pay up. Sort of like a Dollar Store without a cashier.
Thousands of books have been donated, left in a specially designated shed on the grounds of the Meeting House, and are sorted, priced, and organized into categories in a year long process. After a brief breather, committees begin the process again shortly after this year’s fair has concluded. Book sort VIDEO1 VIDEO2
"This is my wife's favorite day of the entire year," says Shane Sher of Fairhaven. “She started a lending library in a laundromat near our home. After she’s done with the books they get shuffled off to the laundromat.” Following a book’s history can be similar to a Where’s Waldo illustration. Lord knows where these books have lived before being donated to the book fair.
Many of them will be re-donated and find new homes next year, and a new address will be added to their Where’s Waldo portfolio.
Photos by Paul A. Tamburello, Jr.