Used Book Sale

Patrons peruse books at the Hyde Park Used Book Sale in October, 2014. 

The Hyde Park Used Book Sale returns this weekend for the first time in two years, and community members, book dealers and collectors alike will soon bask in the selection of tens of thousands of cheap reads

The three-day sale will run from Saturday, Oct. 8 through Monday in the main courtyard of Hyde Park Shopping Center, 55th Street and Lake Park Ave., extending down the wall of the Walgreens.  

On Saturday and Sunday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., there will be individual sales with books priced at $3 for a hardcover, $2 for large paperbacks, $1 for small paperbacks, $1 for media and 25 cents for maps and other items. Then, on Monday, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. there will be a “bag and box” sale, where patrons can fill an entire bag for $4 or a box for $5. 

Also on Monday, beginning at 12 p.m. teachers, nonprofits and other charitable organizations may drop by and select books for free. 

George Rumsey, who is helping setup the fair, described it like this: Saturday is the “intense day,” where book dealers come en masse to decide what to buy; Sunday has a more relaxed picnic-like atmosphere; and by Monday, they’re just trying to sell the last books.  

Held on the second weekend of October since its inception in 1954, the sale began as a fundraiser for Korean refugees during the Korean War, organized by the Hyde Park Co-op. When the Co-op went out of business in 2007, the sale changed hands to the Hyde Park Kenwood Community Conference (HPKCC). 

Organizers typically accept donations for the sale, but after canceling in fall 2021 due to the pandemic, they had more than 40,000 in storage and couldn’t accept any more this year. (At its peak, the sale has had 50,000 to 60,000 volumes). 

This year, there will be 54 book categories. In recent years, their most popular genres have been world history and American history, anthropology and art, cooking, religion, foreign language, religion, mystery, fiction and more. This year their young adult section is larger than their children’s section, which is primarily composed of board books and “easy readers.” A number of books are also termed “special” or gift books, which are given a unique price. There is also a variety of media for sale — CDs, DVDs, audio cassettes and records. 

Selection varies year by year, chair Betsy Budney said, depending on “if there’s a professor from the University or somebody who collects certain kinds of books, and they donate a lot of their library.” 

The books are all stored in banana boxes, which Budney said volunteers usually begin collecting from grocery stores two months ahead of time (from Whole Foods, Jewel-Osco and Hyde Park Produce, for starters). 

For decades they were stored in the basement of the Co-op, then Treasure Island and now the Hyde Park Bank, 1525 E. 53rd St. 

The sale relies on its roughly 75 volunteers to transport these books, do setup and run the sale. 

“We’re so grateful to the community for volunteering to do this… (and) to be so generous with their books and their media,” said Budney. She speculates that neighbors’ generosity with donations come from the knowledge that “ they’re going to be getting something just as good.” 

This year marks the first price increase since HPKCC took over in 2007, which Budney says they did to compensate for general rising costs during the pandemic. “But it’s still so reasonable compared to prices of new books,” she added.  

People come from far and wide for the sale. Rumsey said that for many years, a woman who runs a bookstore in Kraków, Poland would come and fill up immense crates with books to then ship back to her store.  

He also described book dealers lining up at two or three in the morning on Saturday, and said the first part of the day is a madhouse. “We blow the whistle at the start, because it’s fun to have that rush,” Rumsey said. 

HPKCC also runs the Fall and Spring Garden Fairs; sales from each of these community events go back into community sites and  organizations.  

The Hyde Park Used Book sale is the largest book sale in the area, though Brenda Sawyer and Friends of Blackstone Library (a committee within HPKCC) also organized a small sale in the spring for a few years pre-pandemic. Other large book sales in the city include the Printers Row Lit Fest and the Newberry Book Fair

“There are a lot of question marks about this year,” Rumsey said. “But we’re confident that if no one else shows up, Hyde Parkers will show up.” 

“Our motto is, donate your books so you can come buy them back,” he added. 

Remaining books are picked up by Discovery Books, an Indiana-based nonprofit that helps fund literacy programs with their sales. 

For residents in need of a place to donate their books, organizers encourage donations to Open Books, a nonprofit which hosts literacy programs across the city.  The organization also offers pick-ups if you can’t make it to a donation site. Donations to the Hyde Park Used Book Sale will be accepted again next year starting in mid-August, Budney said.

staff writer

Zoe Pharo is a graduate of Carleton College. She was recently an editorial intern for In These Times, and has also written for Little Village and Chapel Hill Magazine. 

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