Between The Covers is closing its doors Nov. 1 after a nearly 18-month run.
But don’t call the venture a failure.
The local used book store has been run exclusively by volunteers as a fundraiser for The Mount Airy Public Library.
“I feel like we’re still a success,” said Christi Stevens, president of the Friends of the Library, which started and operated the business.
“We did give it a try,” Stevens said. “As they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained. We’ve gained a lot of support for our library, made our library more visible, which is good because the library is such a wonderful resource in our community.”
The quasi-business grew out of what Stevens termed the wildly successful biannual Friends of the Library book sale held at the library on Rockford Street in Mount Airy.
Held every spring and autumn, the sale is a chance for individuals in the community to purchase used books for just a few dollars, with the proceeds going to various library programs. The books offered for sale are collected by The Friends group throughout the year.
The success of that twice-yearly project gave birth to the idea of having a continual used book sale — and Between the Covers was born.
“We had been so successful with those we wanted to try this on a larger scale. We had hopes of some longevity, of making money for the library,” she said.
The book store, at 140 S. Main Street in the city, was stocked with roughly 20,000 volumes when the ribbon was cut on May 14, 2016.
“Like any small business, the goal our first year was just to break even,” Stevens said. “We were a success the first year, we did great, but going into the second year is where we’ve seen business slow,” she said.
While the staff of the store was an all-volunteer force, the facility still had overhead — rent, utilities, and the like. Stevens said it has become apparent the book store cannot continue, so it will be closing Nov. 1.
“It’s very sad, it’s a disappointment to have to close. We’ve had such a phenomenal group of volunteers come together,” she said. “We just haven’t been able to enjoy that longevity we’d projected.”
She said one of the things she and her group will miss is the relationships the group has built with volunteers and members of the public — though not all is lost.
“We’re going to continue to have those book sales at the library. We may even add to that with a third sale each year.”
Those sales, she said, typically raise between $2,500 and $3,500 for the library.
That money is used for the library’s popular summer reading program, as well as other programs and projects held by the library throughout the year.
“It’s important that we raise as much money as we can, because that helps the library tremendously,” she said.
Stevens said it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what might have been the undoing of Between the Covers.
“Being new to downtown business, I can’t really say. … I would just have to say that business has been kind of slow for most people downtown — we’ve just had less foot traffic.”
She did offer one stumbling block unique to book stores and libraries: “We’re somewhat marginalized by technology, there’s always that issue of competing with people who use technology to read these days,” she said, referencing the popular Amazon Kindle and similar e-readers still growing in use.
The store certainly wasn’t hurt by having a lack of stock — it’s still filled with a wide variety of books, from older volumes to recent best-sellers.
“We’ve had a little bit of everything, ranging from people cleaning out their estates and bringing books, to books people read and then stored around the house for a few years then finally deciding they didn’t need, to books people have just bought off the shelves and read, very lightly used. We’ve had a gamut of books.”
Those books are still available, and will be until the shop closes at the start of November, at prices generally far less than traditional book stores impose.
“Most mass market paperbacks average $2 to $3,” she said of those sold by the group. “Hardbacks, depending on condition and how new, those range anywhere from $3 to a max of $7.”
Once the story closes, she said some books will be donated to various charities that might derive use from them, while others will go into the rotating stock of books used at the library’s biannual sale.
Stevens said the Friends will continue taking donations for that event, with a few particular requests.
“Records, both 33 and 45 (rpm),” she said. “People love those, especially the 33s. And audiobooks. They’re very poplar, but very hard to acquire, so we’re still asking for those donations.”
There will be little time to sit and reflect once the store closes. The next of the library’s book sales is set for Nov. 15-20, to be held at the library.
Any reflection that does take place, she said, will be in a positive light.
“We have gained so much knowledge in terms of fundraising and business, that will help us support the library. And we’ve had a wonderful group of volunteers. They have made this happen, brought this to fruition, and we’ve had great support from the community.”