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As Used Bookstores In Idaho Close, Library Friends Take Up The Slack

Samantha Wright
Boise State Public Radio
Bonnie Longstreth is book sale chairperson for the Friends of the Boise Public Library. She's surrounded by sale books on the fourth floor of the library.

You may have heard of local used bookstores closing up and disappearing from the Treasure Valley. It’s not a new phenomenon. And as more stores shut down, people still hungry for physical books are turning to other sources to meet that demand.

In 2006, I reported on a sea change in used bookstores in the Treasure Valley. Back then, they were closing up all over the place, according to Laurie Deines, the owner of Boise’s Rainbow Books, and her business partner Lindy Whitmore.

“We lost a mystery bookstore downtown, Parnassus closed, there’s been a lot, and that little rabbit one, Wild Hare went, the Book Rack went, there’s just been a lot of them that have dwindled off,” say Deines and Whitmore.

Now, 12 years later, history is repeating itself. Twice Sold Tales and The Book Exchange in Nampa closed, along with Trip Taylor in Boise and one of the Bent Corners stores. Deines has watched them fall, one by one.

“Yeah, it is sad. And something really precious is lost, I think,” says Deines.

Deines recently decided to sell her business to Rediscovered Books, which plans to keep it open. The Yesteryear Shoppe in downtown Nampa is still around, but not for long.

Dave Gonzales, owner and manager of Yesteryear has witnessed the trend as well.

“I know we have at least 300,000 books, we probably have 60,000 records, and a lot of magazines,” says Gonzales.

Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio
Boise State Public Radio
Dave Gonzales is the owner and manager of The Yesteryear Shoppe in Nampa.

Gonzales has been in the same spot since 1974. He got word last March he had to close because the owner of the building was selling the property, but that agreement fell through. Still, Gonzales says he’s not sure he would start over if another deal were to appear.

“I’m pretty tired out right now. Maybe the easy way out is just to get out of the business,” says Gonzales.

When Yesteryear closes, stores that exclusively sell used books in the Treasure Valley will have shrunk to just a few. So who’s picking up the slack for readers?

Sixth-grade teacher Julie Ann McCoy says she's getting books for her students at a Friends of the Boise Public Library book sale.

“I love the library sales," says McCoy. "It’s a great way to keep my book selection fresh, but at the same time not spending a ton of money on things."

She’s not alone. A few times a year, hundreds pack into the huge warehouse near Julia Davis Park for the sales. Across the street, Diana Cross, vice president of the Friends of the Boise Public Library, watches cars line up at the donation door at the library loading dock.

“We average about 30 boxes of donations every single day, year round. That is up this year over past years,” says Cross.

Credit Samantha Wright / Boise State Public Radio
Boise State Public Radio
Bonnie Longstreth, book sale chairperson and Diana Cross, vice president of the Friends of the Boise Public Library in the warehouse where they hold their annual sales.

The books then move upstairs to the fourth floor where the sorting begins. Some go on Amazon, earning the Friends $5,000 a month. Some are sold to northwest bookstores. Others are sold at the library bookstore, which pulled in almost $60,000 last year.

The rest? They end up at one of their sales, according to Bonnie Longstreth, book sale chairperson for the Friends.

“It’s gradually grown every year, so now we’re up to about $200,000 a year,” says Longstreth.

The Friends started with one book sale in the late 1970s. Last year, surging donations and growing demand led to six sales.

Other Friends groups and libraries, like Meridian, Garden City and Nampa, have multiple sales every year. And the crowds pack in like sardines to snatch up the bargain books. So how come the library sales are doing so well in the Treasure Valley while used bookstores are closing up right and left?

First, says Cross, it’s an all-volunteer operation, and second, they don’t have to buy their own books.

“It’s easier for us to remain viable. Everything is a donation and so it’s all profit, so we don’t have to deal with that aspect of a business that a small, independent bookstore might deal with,” says Cross.

Thursday, book lovers will line up at the downtown Boise warehouse for the Friends’ spring sale, which runs through Sunday, as local stores fade into a fixture of the past. 

Find Samantha Wright on Twitter @samwrightradio

Copyright 2018 Boise State Public Radio

As Senior Producer of our live daily talk show Idaho Matters, I’m able to indulge my love of storytelling and share all kinds of information (I was probably a Town Crier in a past life!). My career has allowed me to learn something new everyday and to share that knowledge with all my friends on the radio.