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Eight o'clock Monday morning. The hardware store that anchors the shopping mall in Juneau, Alaska, is dark. The outside doors to the long, adjacent corridor are locked, and the corridor is quiet except at the far end, where a dozen volunteers are already hard at work in the Amazing Bookstore. With two hours to go before the mall opens, there are piles of books to be sorted, shelves to be filled, and window displays to be arranged.
The bookstore, a nonprofit enterprise operated by the Friends of the Juneau Public Libraries, first opened its doors in 1989. Since then, the store has established itself as a unique and valued community asset: Its shelves hold more than 10,000 volumes, it logs more than 4,000 user visits per month, and it contributes about $75,000 annually to the support of local public libraries.
The history of the store, like the store itself, is both ordinary and quite amazing. In the mid-1980s, staff from Juneau's library system first enlisted the help of the Friends, their official support group, in putting on annual book sales to dispose of volumes that were too old, too battered, or too long uncirculated to remain on library shelves. One of the library branches was, and still is, located in a commercial mall, and the mall's owner agreed to let the Friends hold their book sales in one of his vacant store spaces.
As discards accumulated at an ever-accelerating rate, book sales became a semiannual occurrence. Volunteers set up makeshift tables from sheets of plywood donated by a local lumberyard and sawhorses brought from home workshops. Books were hand-trucked out of storage and arranged on the tables by subject. At 25 cents for any book--hardcover or paperback, fiction or nonfiction--and $1 for a grocery bag full of books, sales were usually brisk; but at the end of each weekend-long sale, dozens, sometimes even hundreds, of books always remained to be repacked and carted back to storage to await the next sale.