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Renovations make the Book Cellar more customer-friendly

Wednesday, Feb. 27 | By Alisa Booze Troetschel
Bill Johnson, left, Denise Johnson and Don Hayes volunteer at the Book Cellar in Warrenton, which raises money through book, CD and DVD sales to support programs of Fauquier County libraries.

The Book Cellar re-opened in November with a spruced-up look.

Bill Johnson, a volunteer from Bealeton, describes the Book Cellar as "Warrenton's best-kept secret."

Located in the basement of the John Barton Payne Building in Old Town Warrenton, the book shop is sponsored by the Friends of the Fauquier Library. All proceeds from the sales of used books, CDs, DVDs and VHS tapes benefit Fauquier County library programs.

The Book Cellar makes more than $23,000 a year for the library, said Denise Johnson, the volunteer manager and Bill Johnson's wife.

"It was over-saturated with books," said Bill Johnson. There were just too many on the shelves. They needed to be cleared out.

In order to do that, all of October became a sale month. The Book Cellar typically runs sales once a month,

One weekend, there was a donation sale, where customers were not charged for items, but were asked to make a donation.

"Most people gave more than they would normally pay for a book," said Denise Johnson. The store made more money from the donation sale than it does from regular sales.

When November came, the store closed, and workers cleared the shelves of stock.

"We punted on all the old stuff," said Bill Johnson.

Volunteers scrubbed, painted and brought in new items.

"We wanted to bring in new faces for shelves," said Denise Johnson.

They organized so that it is easier for customers to find what they want.

"It's not so overwhelming when you walk in," said Denise Johnson.

Bill Johnson made new signage indicating sections of the store.

The sign for the romance novel section goes a little further than identifying the section. It reads: "ATTENTION: ANY MALE CUSTOMER CAUGHT VIEWING THESE BOOKS IS TO REPORT TO THE FRONT COUNTER AND SURRENDER THEIR MAN CARD IMMEDIATELY. DUDE?"

Volunteers created special sections for Virginiana, the Civil War and lastly, collectibles, which offers books signed by Anwar Sadat, Tom Brokaw and Alan Greenspan.

And, the Book Cellar has National Geographic dated back to the first issue, and bound volumes of Harper's Weekly dated before the Civil War.

There are five rooms in the store, filled with 8,000 to 10,000 books Denise Johnson estimates. Three thousand to 5,000 more volumes rest in storage donated by the Weissberg Corporation.

Sales increased since the reorganization. Prior to that, sales figures had leveled off, said Denise Johnson. Customers, some of whom browse the shelves every week, saw the same books when they came in to shop.

Sometimes families make an expedition of coming to the Book Cellar.

Homeschooled students come too, and, Denise Johnson said, they would like to become more of a source of material for them.

"We have free candy," said Don Hayes of Warrenton, who has volunteered longer than anyone. "We bribe people to come in."

Book dealers shop for inventory at the Book Cellar. They come from as far away as Florida. This dealer comes once or twice a year, with a truck, for sales.

And, a Michigan couple had been introduced to the Book Cellar while visiting local residents. Later, they built a stop at the Book Cellar into their trip.

"We get amazing conversations in here," Denise Johnson said.

"People who love books are interesting," she said. "You learn something every time you talk to them."

The Book Cellar is run by an all-volunteer staff of seven to eight people, the "foundation troop," Bill Johnson calls them. In addition, there are eight to 12 floating volunteers.

Hayes is there every Saturday.

"She [his wife] knows where you are," said Denise Johnson said to Hayes. "You're not in a pool hall."

Hayes makes a pitch to customers to volunteer. They need more, he said.

"You have to love it,' said Denise Johnson. She's there to help the library and because she loves books.

Hayes does too.

"When I was younger, I thought that I could read them all," Hayes said, "but I realize I'm not going to make it."

Bill Johnson volunteers because "she makes me," he said referring to his wife.

"The efforts here translate to programs for the library," he said. "They're down to bare necessities. We're the gravy."

"Proceeds from the Book Cellar contribute mightily to the library's budget," said Maria Del Rosso, director of the Fauquier County Public Library.

"Without the help of the Friends of the Library and the Book Cellar, the library would be hard pressed to support special library programs and cultural events for children and adults," she said.

The Book Cellar is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays at 2 Courthouse Square in Warrenton.

The library will accept donations Sunday through Thursday. Current fiction, children's items, DVDs and CDs are particularly needed. Please call (540) 439-1939 to arrange to make large donations.
Paperbacks are typically 50 cents. Hardbacks go for one dollar. Children's books are 25 cents and up. Current volumes are a little pricier, at $2 to $4. Romance novels are five for $1.
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