For more than 60 years, thousands of book lovers have descended on the Arizona State Fairgrounds in February for the VNSA Used Book Sale. For 35 of those years, one family from Chandler has helped make the sale happen.
Mark Lathrop, his wife Theresa, their son Quinn, and Mark’s mom and stepdad, Ann and Ray Cox, have rolled up their sleeves and prepared the half-million books for sale.
This year, the event’s 62nd, is 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, and 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 11, when most books are half-price.
“I’ve been doing this 35 years as a volunteer,” Mark said, starting as a teenager.
“The mom of one of Mark’s friends needed some kids to load books,” Ann said. “Mark says, ‘Mom, did you know about his? It’s awesome.’
“Picture a football field filled with books,” she said.
Next thing they know, Ann and Mark were getting involved in the sale, volunteering and eventually joining the VNSA as members – Ann in 1990 and Mark just last year.
“I just married into it,” Theresa said. “Mark always sets up. I just help on the day of the sale. And I do a half-day on Saturday.” She’s been helping for about eight years.
Quinn, 16, has been involved for about 10 years. Ann remembered overseeing Quinn as a toddler when a VNSA sale was being set up, saying she kept him on a “tether” as the rest of the family sorted books. Quinn eventually got involved.
“I didn’t want to at first,” Quinn confessed. “The past seven years, I’ve started to help.”
The book-loving family comes together to feed their passion and help the community.
“We believe in giving back to the community,” said Ray, who is head of the box strapping team and an announcer at the event.
Ann, who was chairman of the sale in 2000, says the job is a big one. She puts in about 250 hours a year.
Putting on the VNSA sale requires volunteers to give about 10,000 hours a year, total. They go to peoples’ homes to pick up books, price books for the big sale and empty a dozen drop boxes around the Valley, including one in Tempe at Rural and Baseline, and in Ahwatukee at 48th and Warner.
“There are no paid positions,” Ann said. “We have about 130 active members.”
The members all have specialty areas when pricing and setting up books.
“I have an expertise in hardback sci-fi,” Mark said. He sorts through books – 29 boxes’ worth this year – and sets them up.
“I do paperbacks,” Ann said, which includes suspense, mystery, sci-fi, romance, Western and other genres.
The book sale started in 1957 as a fundraiser for the nonprofit Visiting Nurses Service Auxiliary, raising about $900. In the mid-’80s the service was purchased by a hospital corporation, but the sale continued to raise money for nonprofit agencies in the Valley as VNSA became the Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association.
At the two-day VNSA book sale, some bargain-hunters show up with specialized scanners, looking for valuable books they might turn around and sell online. Mark says they know those books are in the mix.
“One year, we found an 1890 printing of ‘Ben-Hur: The Tale of the Christ,’ which the movie was based on. It was over 100 years old.”
“He found a first-edition Stephen King,” Ann added.
“We don’t put anything on eBay ourselves,” Mark said. “We know some books are valuable, but we discount them to sell for charity. If I’ve got a $50 book or above, that’s going to our Rare and Unusual category.”
Rare and Unusual is only one of 27 categories at the sale, along with sports, fiction, history, biography and others. Many categories have subcategories, carefully sorted.
“It’s not just a jumble on a table,” Ann promised.
The VNSA sale has grown from books, too, featuring children’s games, jigsaw puzzles, vinyl and digital music, maps and more.
Once, about 20 years ago, a very special item made its way to the sale.
“It was a ledger, with names and dates and more,” Ann said. Nobody at VNSA was sure what they had, nor could they read it.
“We took it to a foreign languages professor at ASU,” she said. “We found out it was Polish.”
Ann was told that it was a 150-page list of people who went through a Nazi concentration camp. A priest at the camp indicated in the ledger that he wanted to keep a record to help people find out what happened to their relatives, some time in the future.
“Pretty incredible,” Ann said.
The VNSA called the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Ann said the ledger was hand-delivered to Washington, D.C., and is on display there now.
Working with all those books for the entire year, one would think the family would have their fill.
“It doesn’t ruin books for us at all,” Mark said. “I need to get rid of books to take more in, actually. I’m almost at max level.” “We’re beyond max level!” Theresa corrected. “But it doesn’t ruin books for me as much as increase my appreciation.” Mark said.
The goal of the sale is to raise money for charity. Ann says VNSA has donated $8 million since the event began.
“I love it,” Ann said. “Otherwise, I wouldn’t keep doing it.”
The sale is at the Arizona State Fairgrounds Exhibit Building, 1826 W. McDowell Road in Phoenix.
– Contact Ralph Zubiate at 480-898-6825 or email@example.com.