Editor’s note added May 3: The turnout at the Friends of the Library book sale was so large May 3 that the Friends of the Library have cancelled the second day planned for May 4. A post on the Friends of the Library Facebook page says that the inventory has been completely and unexpectedly depleted by the Saturday crowds, and “We are grateful for the tremendous support for this sale and apologize for any inconvenience tomorrow’s closure may cause.”
Cookbooks have proved to be such a popular item at the Seattle Public Library’s Friends of the Library book sales that they are being given their own stand-alone sale — at a pizza place, no less. The Delancey restaurant in Ballard will be transformed this weekend for the “Cook Your Heart Out” event. Prices for the books — all donated titles, with no library discards — start at $2.
Last week at the Friends offices downtown, rows of boxes were stacked five- and six-high in preparation for the event. At last count there were 1,700 to 2,000 books in line for transport. Titles ranged from an original Pasta & Company cookbook by former business owner Marcella Rozene ($3) to a 1952 hardcover edition of Andre Simon’s “Concise Encyclopedia of Gastronomy” ($5) to pristine copies of recent hardcovers. Northwest cookbooks were well-represented.
“Seattle is a big food town, and people love their cookbooks,” said Alice Springer, book-sale director for the Friends of the Library.
Shoppers always rush to the cookbook tables during the regular sales — which take place in a cavernous airplane hangar at Magnuson Park — and that section stays crowded throughout the three-day sales.
When the Friends group lost its generous year-round storage space at the park in 2012 and had to move to the downtown location, the logistics of the sale changed. Year-round book storage became less attractive, and new costs and complications arose, including the need to truck pallet-loads of books to the sale sites.
The idea of highlighting a hot category solved several problems, Springer said, so long as overhead costs penciled out. In addition, “The organization needs to get more out into the community,” Springer said. The side sale could both attract existing fans who don’t want to brave Magnuson, and new customers who weren’t aware that the supersized sales existed.
Logistics and finances came together when Judy Amster, a Seattle cookbook consultant with an epic collection, began volunteering with the Friends. Amster knew which cookbooks would be prime sale candidates and is friends with Delancey owners Molly Wizenberg and Brandon Pettit, who agreed to donate the restaurant space for the sale. Partner business The Pantry at Delancey agreed to donate a staff person’s time to help out during the sale.
“We felt like it was a no-brainer! We love our local libraries, believe in what they do, and want them to thrive, and if something as fun as a cookbook sale can help, we’re in,” Wizenberg said in an email.
Volunteers will push the dinner tables to the side in the morning and have an hour to whisk away any traces of the sale before the restaurant staff starts preparing the room for its regular 5 p.m. dinner opening.
Springer promised that an ample selection of good cookbooks would still be available at Magnuson despite the pullout sales, noting that donations come in year-round.
Time and technology have already changed the Magnuson sales, though, in addition to the reduced storage space. The Friends are constantly selling books online through sites such as Amazon, collecting more than the $1 to $2 they would bring on the Magnuson tables. Some titles, such as obscure collectibles, have a better chance of selling on eBay than of finding a home with book-sale browsers. Its priciest offering currently on abebooks.com is a two-volume, 1892 set titled “Persia and the Persian Question,” priced at $795.
Scanners will not be allowed at Delancey, a move meant to discourage the dealers who seek out the events for stockroom bargains, and to allow the maximum number of people to browse through the compact restaurant.
“It’s more about finding these great treasures than ‘Oh, I can resell this for $20,’ ” Springer said.
Some of the cookbook collectors who have given beloved collections to the organization have left with tears in their eyes at letting go, she said.
“We really want to respect the donation. When people drop off books they are trying to find a good home for them.”
The ‘Cook Your Heart Out’ book sale will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 3 and 4 at Delancey, 1415 N.W. 70th St., Seattle. Bring your own bags; the Friends of the Library will accept cash, checks, debit cards, Visa and MasterCard.