Next up in our installment of independent bookstores in Oakland is The Bookmark Bookstore. This store is what my friend, who is also a bookseller, refers to as “The Little Engine that Could.” Did you have that book when you were a kid? I did, and the story fits…
These guys are unique from all of the other booksellers I’m highlighting in that they:
- are the only non-profit
- are staffed exclusively by volunteers
- sell only donated books
- donate all proceeds to benefit our Oakland Public Library System
It’s an unusual arrangement, but it seems to work, as the store generates approximately $100,000 per year for our libraries. And given the current budget crisis, that’s not chump change.
Here’s how it works… The store is run by a non-profit organization called Friends of the Oakland Public Library (FOPL). Their mission: “to advance the role of the Oakland Public Library as a vital community resource and as an institution critical to the culture, education, and welfare of our diverse community.” They raise funds through membership dues (more on this below), special events, and the sale of books at Bookmark.
Proceeds go back into the library system for things like children’s reading programs, new library branches and upgrades to existing branches, scholarships, materials & special equipment, and more.
The Bookmark Bookstore has been at its current location, 721 Washington Street in the heart of historic Old Oakland, since 1994. Prior to that they were just down the street near Rattos, and at that time, every book in the store was priced at just $1. They’ve raised their rates a bit since then, but still offer the best deals in town for quality specialized books.
They’re able to do this because of their limited operating expenses… as mentioned previously, all books are donated – mostly by the general public, but also by other bookstores – and you’d be surprised at the volume of books this little store is handling. Nearly 10,000 volumes are donated each month, and about that same number are sold. The idea is to keep the inventory moving, so every time you come, there’s a fresh stock of interesting books to explore.
Also, excluding the general manager Bob Frey who is a paid employee of FOPL, all staff are volunteers who donate just a few hours per week. There’s a small army of them, currently around 50, who come from all walks of life: retirees, college students, foreign students wanting to brush up their English skills, those in between employment opportunities, etc. I asked one volunteer why she offers her free time to Bookmark and she said it’s a great way to give back to the community. It’s a great way to be out and about, mingling among those who have a real love for books & literature. Plus volunteers get a 50% discount on all books (priced low to begin with), and there’s a fabulous holiday brunch each year, I’m told.
There are other ways to support Bookmark, if you don’t have the hours to spare each week. Of course you can donate your books. Obviously rare or signed books are best. One book alone recently raised $1750 for the library… a limited edition signed copy of The Fairy Caravan by Beatrix Potter. Nice! Other desirables are new books, hardcovers, collectibles, uncommon books, CDs, and DVDs. What are not well suited for donation are mass market paperbacks, textbooks & computer books older than 2004, encyclopedia sets, mass circulation magazines, or any books that are in poor condition (soiled, torn, highlighted, etc.) Books can be donated anytime during open hours, but call ahead if you’re bringing more than 4 boxes (510-444-0473).
Or wait… say you’ve got no books to give. Well then, how ’bout a few greenbacks to spare? You can become a member of the Friends of the Oakland Public Library for as little as $25 a year ($15 for Seniors & Students). Not only will you be supporting this wonderful little institution, but you’ll get a 20% discount off all purchases at Bookmark. You’ll also be first in line for their bi-annual sales where every book in the store is 30% off. Folks line up for these events and the first day of each is always reserved for members only.
For just a bit more ($50/year), you can become a “Book Friend” member, which entitles you to the same benefits above, but also discounts at all of these participating local bookstores:
- Bibliomania, 1816 Telegraph
- Book Zoo, 6395 Telegraph
- Laurel Bookstore, 4100 MacArthur
- Marcus Books, 3900 M.L.K. Jr. Way
- Montclair Book Tree, 6123 La Salle
- Pendragon, 5560 College
- Spectator Books, 4163 Piedmont
- Walden Pond Books, 3316 Grand
These stores, some of which I’ve already covered and some of which I’m planning to cover in the next week or so, are also supporting the library system through their participation in this program. Yet another benefit of patronizing your local indie booksellers.
And lastly, of course, you can come shop in this wonderful store. Despite the volume of books moving through their limited space, the store feels spacious and welcoming. Housed in the historic Victorian Dunn’s Building, titles are displayed artfully, with plenty of places to sit and browse, and their prices simply can’t be beat.
Bookmark is a little known secret, but for those in the know, it’s a real treasure that’s visited often. Please check them out, and support your local independent bookseller!