Thousands of books sold by neighborhood volunteers

by Stan Cutler
Posted 10/14/21

The volunteers who collected, sorted and sold 10,000 used books for Hilltop Books during a pandemic are a testament to the miraculous power of community effort.

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Thousands of books sold by neighborhood volunteers

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The volunteers who collected, sorted and sold 10,000 used books for Hilltop Books during a pandemic are a testament to the miraculous power of community effort. And the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library honored those who accomplished this civic miracle at a wine and cheese get-together at the brand new brick and mortar store on Bethlehem Pike on a recent Friday evening.

The bookstore’s full-time manager, Amy Wilson, provided a few metrics in a brief thank you address. Since the store’s Grand Opening in April it has been open 144 days and offered 720 hour of shopping. Volunteers have filled approximately 650 volunteer work shifts since the project launch and have sold an estimated 10,000 books through store and pop-up sales.

The President of the local Friends chapter, Jan LeSuer, also spoke briefly. He thanked the volunteers who sit on the organization’s board. As a group, he said, they have not only led the project, they have contributed uncounted hours in the store, at their home computers, and in the sorting station across the street.

Laurene Topping, also a board member, undertook the difficult job of recruiting and managing the 207 people on the list of volunteers. LeSuer thanked her for setting up the system that allows Wilson to manage her work force. Lyn Buchheit, another Board member, gave Laurene a basket of flowers as a token of thanks.

Hilltop Books is a community effort in every sense. The Snowden family stepped in to support the store and transform the property from a real estate office into a cozy, freshly renovated neighborhood bookstore. But filling the space and making it terrific was the work of the volunteers who assembled behind the store for the event..

Against daunting odds, these people came together to address a critical problem of disinvestment in public libraries.

Consider the challenges. Cynics said: “people don’t walk into bookstores anymore – they buy their books online. And who reads paper books anyway? Doesn’t everybody download text and read it on a device? And there is a pandemic! How do you expect to sell books when people can’t share small spaces, like the rooms of an old-fashioned bookstore? Gimme a break. You’re dreaming.”
But volunteers believe the store can be more than self-sustaining. It can thrive, they say. As pandemic restrictions ease and word of mouth brings more neighbors into the store, sales could increase - helping to ensure that the Chestnut Hill branch of the library system continues to provide essential community services.

The mission of the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library is to support, financially and otherwise, the underfunded Philadelphia Free Library system, particularly the local branch on Germantown Ave.
The idea behind the bookstore project was to raise money to augment the City’s commitment of resources to an essential civic institution. Much of the labor falls to the sorters, more than a dozen neighbors who find opening boxes of donated books to be like opening presents. Each box of books donated (the number has not been counted) is like a treasure chest to the sorters. It is their job to discard those that are unsuitable for resale and to categorize the remainder. At least as many ‘discarded’ books have been donated to charitable organizations as have made it onto the shelves.
If you have good shelf units you don’t need, Hilltop Books may take them. Call Amy at 215-315 8588 or email her at amy@chestnuthilllibraryfriends.org to make arrangements.

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