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Thousands buy books at TC fundraising sale; teachers, non-profits invited to take books for free Tuesday morning

Sale, featuring about half a million donated books, was held Saturday and Sunday at the Victoria Curling Club

The first Times Colonist Book Sale since 2019 ended on a what organizers are calling a terrific note as more than 5,600 book lovers came out to buy books, packing them away in shopping bags, boxes and suitcases.

They lined up outside the Victoria Curling Club on Quadra Street and some even slept overnight on Friday to be among the first to shop on Saturday when the doors opened at 9 a.m. The two-day event continued on Sunday, when an even higher number of customers showed up.

The total value of sales are still being tallied. Money raised goes to literacy programs on Vancouver Island.

Teachers and non-profit groups are invited to go through the remaining books on Monday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., taking what they want at no charge, and again on Tuesday morning. 

Those books can end up in school libraries or on the shelves of charity thrift stores around the area, Dave Obee, Times Colonist editor and publisher, said as the sale ended Sunday. “It’s a gift that keeps on giving for a long time.”

“There are still great values and books available at the end of the sale,” he said. “That’s an indication of just how many great books we’ve had right from the start and it all comes back to the quality of stuff that people donate to us.”

This year, an estimated half million books were donated by the public.

Each day of the sale brought out about 150 volunteers in green T-shirts, who kept the tables full and assisted the public.

This dedicated band of volunteers is key to staging the event. Some worked 18 days in a row to tackle the huge task of sorting and setting up the books. Some volunteers took a week off their regular jobs to give their time to the sale.

”It’s amazing what people do and the dedication is huge,” Obee said.

On Saturday, 2,622 shoppers were counted, while Sunday drew in slightly more than 3,000. Normally, the situation is reversed with the first day of the sale attracting higher numbers.

Although there were more people through the door on Sunday, they likely weren’t spending as much as those who came on Saturday, when established book dealers and professional shoppers show up, said Mark Taylor, head colunteer co-ordinator.

Sunday shoppers were more likely to look for something for themselves or as gifts.

He praised the volunteers, calling them “wonderful, amazing, incredible.”

While the overall number of shoppers was below many other years, Taylor is happy with the outcome, calling it a year of rebuilding after the pandemic led to a two-year hiatus from the sale.

“Next year we’ll be raring to go, as long as nothing happens outside of our control.”

Taylor hopes that with increased immunization levels and boosters people will feel more comfortable going out. “Because that definitely was a limiting factor.”

A lot of people did not feel quite ready to be around large numbers of people, he said.

This year, acknowledging pandemic concerns, 600 people were permitted at a time in the building, down from past years when it was more crowded. Fewer numbers created more space between people and tables were further apart.

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The second day of the Times Colonist Book Sale is continuing to attract new customers today as volunteers unpack countless boxes of books to keep tables full.

“There are still tonnes of treasures to be found,” head volunteer co-ordinator Mark Taylor said.

Anyone who shopped on Saturday, the first day of the two-day sale, and returned today would find, “it is almost like a completely brand new sale,” Taylor said.

Doors opened at 9 a.m. today and the sale runs until 5 p.m.

For safety reasons due to the pandemic, 600 people at a time are being welcomed into the Victoria Curling Club, at 1952 Quadra St. This is the first book sale after a two-year hiatus

As a result, the area is less crowded than in past years. Masks are being provided to people who need one.

Boxes are available for shoppers to pack their books. Pro tip: if you bring a cart with rollers, you can stack boxes and don’t have to carry weighty books.

The Times Colonist stages the sale to advance literacy on Vancouver Island. It couldn’t happen without the hundreds of volunteers in bright-green t-shirts who do everything from sorting books, carrying boxes, handing out maps of the sections in the sales area and answering all sorts of questions.

By the end of the day Saturday, 2,600 people had showed up to shop, spending about $100,000 in total, Taylor said.

That’s lower than some years. “We are still very happy with that number all things considered. This is a year of rebuilding,” Taylor said.

Total number of shoppers will be tallied by the end of today. But revenue numbers won’t be finalized until Monday.

Science fiction, First Nations and Canadiana are among the top draws for shoppers, said Taylor. Books are set out on three levels in the building.

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Times Colonist Book Sale customers poured into the Victoria Curling Club as they returned Saturday to a favourite event last held in 2019 prior to the pandemic.

With eyes bright with anticip­ation, many said, “Thank you” to the volunteers who are critical to putting on the popular ­fundraising event for literacy.

Mark Taylor, head volunteer co-ordinator, called out “welcome back” to people entering the building, at 1952 Quadra St., when doors opened at 9 a.m. to look through books priced at $1, $2 and $3.

The first people lined up just before midnight and hundreds more arrived in the morning, sending the line down Pembroke Street and snaking through the adjacent parking lot.

Despite a slight morning drizzle, “the lineup was the longest that I can remember,” said a pleased Taylor.

All ages showed up — from mums with babies to youngsters in the children’s section, to seniors with walkers, assisted by volunteers if needed.

Jane Mertz, assistant volunteer co-ordinator, said the vast majority of customers wore masks. Everyone was courteous and calm and respected social distancing, she said, and tables are separated more than usual.

“It has been steady all day,” Mertz said.

“I am seeing people with huge bags and suitcases going out so I’m assuming they are buying more this year.”

Total customer numbers seemed to be down slightly on Saturday compared to past years, she said. Dave Obee, Times Colonist editor and publisher, said that means a good selection remains. “I expect a busier than normal Sunday.”

Mertz shared a Sunday shopping tip: It is usually pretty quiet first thing in the morning because many people are at church and come afterwards.

Some customers were so keen to have an early pick that they camped out overnight.

Sascha Martens was first in line after staking out his spot at 11:30 p.m. Friday. Martens, 38, brought blankets and wore thermal underwear.

He had a good night’s sleep, but even so, “it’s cold; it’s been a cold spring,” he said, shortly after 5 a.m.

Martens was buying for himself but the lineup (about 50 people at 5 a.m.) also held local booksellers and people from the Lower Mainland and Washington state, and teachers buying for their classrooms.

Why camp overnight? “Just for fun mostly,” Martens said. He was going after early science-fiction and fantasy books for his personal collection and estimated he would spend about $50.

One cheerful group of six elementary and middle school teachers who arrived early in the morning said attending the book sale is a tradition. Books are free for teachers and non-profit groups on Monday, but this group enjoys getting together at the sale and carried lists of what they wanted for their classrooms.

The No. 2 spot in line was held by Joshua Chan, 22, of Burnaby, who showed up at 11:45 p.m. Friday, spending part of the night in his car because of the cold.

He sells books online through Amazon and was mainly looking for graphic novels and non-fiction books. His dream find? A first edition of The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway.

Books at the sale are all donated, and funds raised go to support literacy programs. This is the first sale since the pandemic caused it and other major events to be postponed for two years.

Sarah Sawatsky, buying for herself, wore trainers for an anticipated several-hour session. She plans to return today.

First section she’s going to? “Always science-fiction first.” Then cookbooks and then “I’m going to run to poetry” followed by regular fiction.

Sawatsky is a dedicated TC book sale shopper. “This is my highlight of the year. I’m an avid reader and a book collector.”

Bookseller Joel Nugent, 45, arrived from Bellingham, Washington and also slept outdoors.

He’s travelled extensively to book sales, going to locations such as New Jersey, Phoenix and Toronto. “I would say this is the best.”

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