JCC gives readers 100,000 options


Forty-one years ago, when the Jewish Community Center was preparing for its first ever Used Book Sale, volunteers worked out of Myrna Hershman’s basement, sorting and pricing donated books.

That first year, the JCC raised about $1,000. This year, during the 41st Annual JCC Used Book Sale, organizers said they grossed more than $32,000 in sales.

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“We’ve come a long way,” said Zelda Sparks, director of the JCC’s Cultural Arts department. This year, the JCC amassed over 100,000 books for the sale, which took place at the Carlyn H. Wohl Building from Aug. 12 to Aug. 19.

The first day of the sale, Sparks said, was the only day that people paid an admission fee. “The very first day was mobbed. People bought line tickets, starting at 8:30 a.m. and I would say we had 120 people lined up by 10 o’clock (when the sale officially began), waiting to go in,” Sparks said.

Many of the book buyers that first day were booksellers or book collectors, some coming from as far away as Indiana, Arkansas and Louisiana, she said. Sparks said many of the professional buyers bring pricing books, or “even hand-held scanners to read the bar codes on the books to see if they already have it in their inventory, and what the price is,” to assist them in their shopping.

For the rest of the sale, visitors could enter for free to browse the vast selection of books, music and videos, laid out across rows of tables and shelving — and even below the tables in additional boxes and crates.

“We’ve had more books, it seems like, this year than we’ve ever had. The tables in the auditorium were entirely filled along with our shelves and then the entire Steve’s Room was filled with nothing but paperback fiction,” Sparks said.

“At one point, we thought we had as many books under the tables as on the tables,” she said.

Sparks said a group of volunteers, led by book sale chair Harriet Barenfeld and JCC staff member John Lesser, worked throughout the year to sort and price books, and to actually work on the days of the sale, assisting and checking out customers.

“We have an amazing group of dedicated volunteers who work year-round here at the J,” she said. About 12 to 15 volunteers work all through the year, and then about 50 to 60 volunteers work during the actual sale, she said.

One of those volunteers was Kay Schlesinger, who said she has been volunteering at the book sale for the past four or five years. As she manned the cash register along with several others on the final day of the book sale, she read a mystery novel in-between customers. “I’m really into mysteries and I belong to a book group at the County Library ,” she said, noting that she always makes a point to check out the hardcover and paperback mysteries at the sale.

Sparks said that turnout for the sale may have been impacted by the high temperatures during the week of the sale. “I think that because of our five days in a row of 100 degree days, that it kept some people away. Although it seems that financially we’re doing fine, we’re used to seeing more people, but who wants to come out in this weather?” she said.

While shoppers were in for a bargain throughout the sale–with most paperbacks at $1 and most hardcover books at $2–many people waited until the end of the sale for the half-price day on Friday, and ‘Bag Day’ on Sunday.

“Sunday is bag day, and that’s a wild day. You can fill a whole bag, as full as you can stuff it, and believe me, they can stuff it, for five dollars. It’s such a bargain,” Sparks said.

Michael DiPlacido was one of the shoppers who took advantage of ‘Bag Day.’ While perusing the Judaica section, he said this was his second year of attending the JCC Used Book Sale (both times on the final day of the sale), although this was his first year of attending the sale as a Jew. “I just converted a couple of weeks ago, although I’ve been on the conversion journey for a long time,” he said. As DiPlacido stuffed his bag full of books, he said he was hoping to “fill in the gaps” in his collection of Judaic books.

Sparks said any unsold books at the end of the sale would be picked up by various charities. “We don’t hold anything over from year to year,” Sparks said. “It’s hard to imagine but all of that is accumulated over one year.”

Proceeds for the book sale benefit the JCC’s Roswell and Wilma Messing Cultural Arts and Education Department.

Sparks said the book sale is a “win-win situation” for book donors and book buyers. “People are happy to know that their books are being donated to a good cause, and people who are buying the books are so thrilled to get them because they love books and they can get them at a great price.”

The JCC will begin collecting books for next year’s Used Book Sale after Labor Day. Donors can bring books to the book drop-off box at the front of the JCC’s Wohl Building in Creve Coeur. Donors can ask at the front desk for a book donation card to list the number of items. For more information about the sale, or about donating books, contact John Lesser at 314-442-3281.