Friends bookstore now in friendlier quarters at Upland Public Library

September 18, 2018

If you’re a book lover in 2018, you have to sit up and take notice when you hear of a bookstore that is expanding, not contracting or closing. The used bookstore is in the Upland Public Library. The Friends of the Library asked me over so they could show it off.

Well, they didn’t have to ask me twice.
(Actually, they did have to ask me twice, once before vacation and once after. I had a lot on my mind. But I was happy to take a look once they reminded me.)

The bookstore was easy to find. I walked into the library, scanned the main floor and saw the large sign at the far left of the room: “Friends of the Upland Public Library BOOKSTORE.”

Through the open glass entry, it’s a clean, well-lighted place, to quote Hemingway. “We have windows and air conditioning,” a pleased Friends vice president Chester Olson said. “I have a view,” enthused Edie Howard, the Friends president, who was seated behind the checkout desk, facing the north window that looks out onto the Civic Center Plaza.

“You remember our old bookstore, right?” Olson asked. I said yes to be polite, but I had no recollection of it.
We walked downstairs. A blank wooden door was unlocked. Inside was a small, nearly bare, window-free space. Some had called it the dungeon. It had no air conditioning or heat.

“The rule downstairs was if it got to 90 degrees we leave, and we did. In the winter it was the opposite,” Olson said.

“What did you think of our old space?” Howard asked cheerfully when we returned to the new one. “We’ve really come up in the world, in more ways than one.”

The new space, open since July 23, is about 1,300 square feet, nearly double the former 700 square feet. Olson estimated that Friends has 5,000 books, including titles in storage awaiting shelf space. An all-day celebration is planned for Oct. 24, with a ribbon-cutting at 5 p.m.

“We need people to come in and buy books,” said Friends board member Wendy Slatkin, “and we need people to bring us their unwanted books.”

The old store was called the Book Cellar. The new one is the Book Seller. Get it?

Ralph Cavallo had a lot to do with the new space. The community volunteer led the charge for the extensive veterans memorial in the plaza, then helped finish the library’s west wing. (Perhaps Martin Sheen was busy.) The space had a lattice roof and concrete floor and was rarely used. Now it’s an enclosed, carpeted children’s reading room.

The east wing was in the same shape. With Cavallo again spearheading the effort, enclosing it and building it out cost $125,000, with some donated labor, rather than the $300,000 he estimated it was worth. Friends paid most of it.

Cavallo saw the need for a better Friends bookstore from personal experience. During the work on the memorial, he was looking for Janet Evanovich mysteries as a treat for his sister-in-law, hitting up used bookstores as far east as Redlands in an attempt to find the titles she was missing. Then someone asked if he’d looked at the bookstore just paces away. He didn’t know what they were talking about.

He not only found the store in the library basement, he found eight of the 16 titles he was looking for. “Half the books were downstairs — for 50 cents,” he marveled.

Howard walked me around the room. First there was a wall of children’s books, plus VHS tapes. Then came a couple of bookcases of Shakespeare and other classics. Further on was music, sports, reference, cookbooks, history, science fiction, Civil War and military, religion, home improvement, pets, photography, humor, poetry, large print and even a small section of books on Yosemite.

They’re at the mercy of what gets donated, and they got a bunch of Yosemite books from someone, Howard said. Every item is donated — even the desk.

Continuing the circuit of the room, there’s a romance section, and mysteries, and a few signed editions, including by Richard Chamberlain ($8), Bill O’Reilly ($5) and John McCain ($30). But those are outliers. Most books are 75 cents to $2. I saw a row of 10 Patrick O’Brian sea novels at 75 cents each and a shelf of Louis L’Amour paperbacks from 50 to 75 cents.

Up on the top shelf, a series of dark, matching slipcases hold backdated National Geographics, with most issues present from 1968 to 2010. Each slipcase of six months’ worth of issues is 75 cents. Individual issues are 25 cents, if you can overcome the guilt of breaking up a set (I couldn’t).

Repeat customer Therese Andrews was browsing. “It’s so organized,” Andrews said. “Everything is alphabetical. The volunteers deserve credit for that.”

Friends was formed in 1967, a year before the old Carnegie Library was abandoned in favor of the new, larger library in the Civic Center. The bookstore opened about 1998.

Friends averages $50,000 per year in donations to the library, library director Yuri Hurtado said.
The money supports children’s literacy and programming, adult literacy efforts as well as the Book Enders book club, buying extra copies of each month’s selection and the technology needed for Skype sessions with some authors, including Lisa See.

“Without the money they raise,” Hurtado said, “we would not be able to offer many of the programs we have.”
She added, “With an upstairs, front of the house, air conditioned, well-lit bookstore, the goal is the fundraising will go to six figures.” Not that there’s any pressure.

Because the space is more visible and inviting, the number of volunteers is up to 21 from 13, allowing the store to be open more hours: 1 to 4 p.m. Monday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Wednesday and 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday. Sales are up by half since the move.

“People would come in and spend 30 seconds. Now they like to browse,” Olson said.

Ahlaam Mahmood was looking for children’s books for her son, who’s 2 1/2. It was her second straight day at the store. Most children’s books are 50 cents.

“I think this is a fabulous place,” Mahmood said. “These prices are amazing. I can get a lot more books at these prices than at another place.” She took a small stack up to the checkout and fished for change.

If Friends can’t get to six figures on volume alone, maybe they can raise the price of those National Geographics.

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