Bloomington volunteers toil for months on the mega-sale to benefit crime prevention as it celebrates its 20th year.
If you've been looking for a copy of the U.S. Army Stability Operations Field Manual, Danielle Steel's latest romance novel or perhaps the 1917 bestseller "A Thousand Ways to Please a Husband" (subtitled "The Romance of Cooking and Housekeeping"), you're in luck.
The three books are among an expected 140,000 items that will be for sale at the 20th annual Book 'Em sale in Bloomington starting Friday. The sale, one of the largest in the state, benefits crime prevention programs in Bloomington and is organized and run by about 65 volunteers, many of them retirees.
Last year, almost $120,000 was raised from selling donated items that were mostly priced at a dollar or two. Proceeds from the sale have financed everything from the purchase of two new police dogs for Bloomington to uniforms for the police honor guard and special locks for local schools.
"It's hard work, but we have the greatest volunteers," said Deanna Juergens, who has worked on the sale for about a decade. "The reward is in seeing where the money goes."
The sheer magnitude of the sale inspires awe: tons of books, records, computer programs and games, videos, DVDs, puzzles and games are displayed on 300 tables and bookshelves that stretch across 22,000 square feet of a former outdoors store at 9801 Lyndale Avenue. Everything is organized by category, subject and genre, with fiction alphabetized by author.
No wonder Deanna's husband, sale coordinator Jay Juergens, and volunteers start organizing the sale in March.
"Today, I'm kind of tired," Jay Juergens admitted recently after a morning that included a run to Golden Valley, two trips to a school to pick up tables and a drive to a library to pick up discarded books. "I would say this is equivalent to at least a half-time job."
Virtually all the money from the sale goes to the Bloomington Crime Prevention Association, Juergens said. Cardboard grocery store boxes collected by volunteers are used to organize books. Some tables are borrowed. For seven years, Wixon Jewelers, which owns the former outdoors store, has allowed Book 'Em access to the building for months while paying costs like utilities.
The sale is a labor of love for volunteers who help unload, sort and organize donated items. Many wear gloves as they go through the boxes. Some donors bring in a few books or CDs; others donate boxes and boxes of items left over from garage or estate sales. Public libraries have joined in the effort, donating discarded books that don't sell in their sales.
In the last couple of years, Juergens has used free storage space to keep donated materials year-round.
"We encourage people to hang onto stuff, but if they can't, we'll store [items] until the next sale," he said. "If you don't get them when they're moving, or downsizing, you'll never get them."
Drop boxes for donations are located all over the city, and people stop by the sale location to drop off contributions, which are accepted through the first week of the sale.
"People mark this on their calendar, it's like Christmas," said volunteer Kathy Clark. "We have had people come from out of state for the sale."
Friday night is the presale, with a $5 admission fee (admission to regular sales days is free). Book dealers and bibliophiles begin lining up at noon for admission at 5 p.m.
"We have had some rare books, and we try to do special pricing on them," Clark said. Volunteers have become savvy enough to recognize volumes that might warrant special pricing.
One year, she said, a book called "My Lady Nicotine: A Study in Smoke," written by "Peter Pan" author J.M. Barrie, arrived in a box with other books. Internet sites list the value of that 1896 American edition, which is famous for its M.B. Prendergast illustrations, as high as $1,500.
Even odd or very specialized donations seem to sell. One year, Jay Juergens said, someone donated two pick-up truck beds full of firefighter manuals.
"They sold like crazy," he said.
At the end of the sale, left-over books are delivered to Goodwill and other charities. Mildewed and damaged books are discarded, with semi-truck loads of ripped hardcovers and tattered paperbacks sent to a St. Paul recycler.
Odd things sometimes end up among the donations. Volunteers have taken pains to reconnect people with personal items, like a box of old family pictures and a man's Social Security card that were returned to his grateful widow. Volunteers and police have tracked down the owners of wedding albums from the 1940s as well as the family of a deceased man whose three-inch-thick book of genealogy research ended up at the sale.
"It makes an impression when there's a uniformed police officer at the door with your stuff," Deanna Juergens said.
Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan