by Cindy Reinhardt
How St. Andrew’s Became the Book Church
Nearly twenty years ago, when St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Edwardsville, Illinois, held their first book sale, we had no idea it would become such a success, otherwise we would have made a note of the auspicious occasion. At that time, St. Andrew’s held Mayfest, a flower and music festival, each year the first weekend in May. They decided to add “booths” for vendors, so my husband, Mike, rented a booth where we sold some of our books, but mostly books from the public library in Granite City where Mike helped organize a book sale for many years. It was a very humble beginning.
Over the next few years we continued in the same format, spurred by a love of books and a love of St. Andrew’s. Mike and I are book people, and by that I don’t mean just bibliophiles. Between us we spent 64 years working in bookstores and libraries.
Sales grew as donations increased and 3-4 tables in the fellowship hall were no longer adequate for the sale. In 2006 the book sale was moved into the undercroft (the church basement) where tables could be set-up a week or two in advance. Over time, this became very labor intensive, but in 2013 the undercroft became available year-round. The books are now stored in place so we no longer have to set-up tables and unpack boxes for each sale. Each book fair advertises approximately 20,000 used books, CDs, DVDs, and vinyl records for sale. (We think there are probably many more than that but can’t find anyone interested in counting them!) They are organized by category and some categories are also alphabetized by author to make shopping more convenient.
Since 2014 the St. Andrew’s Book Fair has been a quarterly event held the first Friday/Saturday in February, May, August, and November. Hours are always Friday night 5-8 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m.-3 p.m. plus we will occasionally open after church on the following day. On Friday nights there is a line of approximately 60 very excited people waiting for the door to open at exactly 5 p.m.
In recent years we have also been asked to bring books to sell at numerous local festivals which provides additional outreach opportunities. One of the regular book sales is at a fall festival, Leclaire Parkfest, where all proceeds are donated to the St. Andrew’s Relay for Life Team.
After each sale we “weed and feed.” The books are weeded to take out titles that have been on the shelves for a while. Those books are usually donated to another not-for-profit or recycled. Then, the tables are “fed” with new donations. Thousands of new titles are added before each sale.
Where do the books come from?
The members of our congregation continue to make donations to the sale and bring in donations from friends who know they belong to “that book church.”
However, most of the books come from members of the local and regional community who can make donations at any time during the year. They learn about us from newspaper notices, our Facebook page or because they also shop at our book fairs. Many are relieved to find a place where they can “recycle” their books to another reader. Whenever possible, we meet donors at the church to accept donations, but we also pick up books when the donors are elderly or disabled. Often, donations come from people downsizing, moving, or settling an estate. Other donors are regular customers who come the night of the sale with a bag of books to donate before restocking their shelves at home.
We also have a wonderful relationship with our local independent bookstore, Afterwords Books. The owner gives us overstock of books she doesn’t need and we give her books that we think she can sell but they just haven’t moved at St. Andrew’s. She’s also one of our best customers. We always advertise her store at the book fair and she promotes our event with posters and bookmarks at her store.
Another source of books comes from Mike’s hobby. He visits library book sales and yard sales all year long looking for great books. From years of experience, he has excellent instincts for what will sell. This assures that we always have a good selection, especially in history and literature. Mike also is the one who prices and organizes at least 80% of the books for the sale.
Benefits of the Book Sale
The obvious benefit of the St. Andrew’s Book Fair is that it is a substantial fundraiser for the congregation. (Our 2020 goal was $20,000 in sales, but unfortunately COVID has already made that an impossible dream.) When customers ask what the money is used for, we point out that our building is more than a century old, and like all old buildings, “there’s always something.” (The most recent was a broken water pipe under the floor in the undercroft, resulting in hundreds of lost books and a very substantial plumbing bill!)
But there are other benefits, too. The book sale builds awareness of our parish in the community. On numerous occasions I have given patrons tours of St. Andrew’s Church when they expressed interest, providing historical and service information.
The public relations value of the book fair is outstanding due to the friendly, encouraging folks that volunteer as cashiers and sales clerks on sale days. The book fair is a lot of work up front, but the sales days are always a joyful experience. People often comment on how friendly everyone is at the book fair. The volunteers are happy to see money coming in and patrons are thrilled to find the books they want at bargain prices.
Patrons often thank us for providing this service to the community. We’re told we have the best quality and the best organized used book sale in the Metro-East. And as someone once said, “It’s not a bad thing to be known as the literate church.”
Book Fair Stories
People sometimes donate things they didn’t mean to donate, or things that we know need to go somewhere else. For example, we were given a Bible with entries of family births, deaths and marriages going back to the 1800s. I happen to be a genealogist, so I built a family tree and located descendants in Oklahoma. They were thrilled to get the family Bible which had been sold as part of a distant cousin’s estate. It was a feel-good moment.
Mike was going through a donation from Afterwords Books one day and found a hollowed-out book that contained $300 in cash! He contacted Afterwords and they were able to identify the person who accidentally donated their household hiding place. They were very grateful.
When sorting through donations, we have found credit cards, social security cards, ACT scores, letters, photographs, airline tickets and much more. The lesson here: Be careful what you use for a bookmark! When we feel it is of monetary or personal value, we contact the donor and return the item.
A man contacted us via email saying he wanted to donate books. After a very confusing exchange of messages, it was discovered that he was from Scotland and was inquiring about making a donation to the St. Andrew’s Book Fair in Edinburgh, Scotland. He picked up the wrong address when he googled “St. Andrew’s Book Fair.” No wonder he was having difficulty trying to contact us.
Some time ago, a father came to the book fair with his four young children who all stood proudly in front of the cashier with their chosen books. That’s when their dad found out St. Andrew’s doesn’t take credit cards. He was just beginning to tell his children they’d have to put the books back when the man next to him said, “Let me get the books for the kids.” And he did, and all of us in the cash office were very happy…and so were the kids. Often when a patron is a little short on cash, the person behind them will say, “No worries. I’ll cover it.” Many of our patrons also say “Keep the change. I really appreciate that you are doing this.” Generosity and caring are contagious.
Several years ago a woman was checking out with several boxes of children’s books and thanked us profusely. She was a new teacher in an under-financed school district in the next county. When she entered her new classroom, she found there were no books and there was no school library. We regularly contact her now with donations of children’s books that are first distributed to the various classrooms. The remainder are offered free to students at that school. She usually is given a carload of books each time she comes.
St. Andrew’s regularly makes donations of books to local not-for-profit organizations including Head Start, public libraries, public schools in underfunded districts, Relay for Life (American Cancer Society) and other worthwhile causes.
For decades now, we’ve been told that books are going away and that ebooks will be all people want or need. We know differently. People love books. They cherish their favorites and are always hungry for more. We are happy to be there for them.
The St. Andrew’s Spring Book Fair in May was canceled due to COVID-19, but we plan to be back in August, using a system of reservations that will limit the number of people shopping at one time and provide a safe environment for shoppers. Specific information will be posted soon on our Facebook page and website. If you are interested in more information about the St. Andrew’s Book Fair, give us a call or visit us online.