AUBURN — About 5,000 people flocked to a small, roped-off section of the food court in Fingerlakes Mall July 9-10, although they weren’t there to get a bite to eat. Instead, they were looking for a few good books during the 14th annual Book Bonanza to benefit St. Joseph’s School.
Bargain-hunters arrived at the mall early in the morning July 9, eager to comb through the boxes and stacks of books for hidden treasures. Most of the sales’ customers shopped that day, but about 1,000 people came July 10, said Sarah Morabito, one of the event’s two volunteer coordinators.
During the first day of the sale, most children’s books and paperbacks were 50 cents each and hardcover books were $1 each. On the second day of the sale, customers purchased bags for $2 apiece and were invited to fill them with as many books as possible.
“The second day’s goal is kind of to get rid of the leftover books,” Morabito said.
This year’s sale featured more than 60,000 books that had been collected in the year since the last Book Bonanza. Fiction books were divided into categories — including mystery, science fiction, western and romance — and placed in alphabetical order according to the author’s last name. Nonfiction categories included sports, hobbies, travel, humor, religion, biography and politics. Shoppers at this year’s sale could find anything from hardcover copies of Bill Cosby’s Fatherhood or Gen. Chuck Yeager’s autobiography to paperback copies of Shakespeare’s classics and antique books written in German and Italian.
The sale has become something of an institution in Auburn and even outside of Cayuga County, said Diane La Rue, event organizer.
“Everyone knows it’s the second Saturday and Sunday in July. We have people that plan their vacations around it,” she added.
The Book Bonanza originally began in 1992 as a fundraiser benefitting Friends of the Seymour Public Library in Auburn, La Rue said. At the time La Rue was working as a customer-service supervisor at the mall, and after seeing how successful the fundraiser was she brought the idea to officials at St. Joseph’s School, which her two sons attended. The school’s principal and librarian liked the idea of the sale and thought it fit well with the school’s mission of promoting education and literacy in the community, she said.
“It was a perfect fit. Not only was it a different sort of fundraiser that meant we weren’t selling items to parents and grandparents … but it was a community-service project, too,” she said. “We would be aiding the cause of literacy in our community by collecting, organizing and selling books at 50 cents and $1 to people. Parents and children could stock up on books and read all year long for less than the price of a new hardcover book at a bookstore.”
In 1998 the Seymour Public Library found it could no longer sustain the Book Bonanza with adequate volunteer levels, so Fingerlakes Mall accepted St. Joseph’s School’s proposal to become the sale’s benefitting organization, La Rue said. The school was now faced with the task of finding enough parent volunteers to staff the Book Bonanza. The event requires 40 people to set up the books and tables the night before the sale, 40 people to staff the first day of the sale and 20 people to work the second day of the sale and clean up afterwards, La Rue said.
The school found enough volunteers to staff the sale and brought in $4,700 that year and $6,500 the next, La Rue said. In 2000 the school received grants from state and county tourism offices in order to advertise outside of Cayuga County and raised $10,000 through that year’s Book Bonanza. This year’s sale was the best yet, raising $15,000 for the school, La Rue added.
“There aren’t too many fundraisers where you can raise $15,000 in two days. This is a huge deal for us,” Morabito said.
Both Morabito and her fellow volunteer coordinator, Mary Jo Keber, said they were at first nervous they wouldn’t be able to find enough people to staff the sale. Early July can be a hard time to find volunteers because so many people are away on vacation or burned out from fundraising during the school year, but Morabito said she was pleasantly surprised to see how many people stepped forward to help. The sale even ended up being a lot of fun, Keber said.
Some people started gearing up for next year’s Book Bonanza less than 24 hours after this year’s sale ended, La Rue said. Fingerlakes Mall has set aside one room next to its main entrance where people can donate books for the sale year-round.
“The funny thing is every year, the day after we sell all of those books, I always find books in the book drop donated for next year’s sale,” La Rue said.