Standing amidst her towering stacks of books, with barely enough room to move between them, Myriam Gaudet clings to the belief that each will find a new home.
Gaudet, owned by Red Cart Books in Cornwall, Ontario, now has a barn and two other farmhouses on the same property filled with donated hardcovers, paperbacks and illustrated books of every genre imaginable.
“If I don’t take them, they end up in the landfill. So I’ll take her,” she said.
“I just wish we could hold on to them long enough for the right person to look for them, because eventually – pretty much every book – someone will be looking for them.”
After five years of collecting unwanted books from local thrift stores that would otherwise end up in the local landfill, Gaudet has amassed almost 200,000 titles.
However, this wealth of literature raises some unique problems.
The books are essentially in deep storage, inaccessible to customers, and unsearchable by the bookstore’s three-person staff, as most of them are uncataloged. Gaudet is also about to exhaust the storage space available to her.
She predicts that in a few months she will run out of room in her family’s farm buildings and be forced to stop accepting new donations.
Books come from thrift stores
What Gaudet calls a ‘book tsunami’ comes mainly from seven second-hand shops in the Cornish area. Often donated books cannot be sold in a timely manner and are therefore taken off the shelves and dumped in the local landfill.
Gaudet said she learned about the problem a few years ago when she ran the book department of a for-profit thrift store. More than three quarters of the donated books were never sold.
After leaving that job, she founded Red Cart Books. In its first year it was an online-only business, primarily focused on selling a collection of around 4,000 books for a friend.
But things changed when a former colleague who now works at another local thrift store contacted Gaudet to see if she could take some of the store’s overstocked books and divert them from the landfill.
Gaudet began stopping by every week to collect unsold books. First, inventory that did not fit in their tiny Pitt Street storefront was stored alphabetically and cataloged on neat rows of shelves set up in the Gaudet family farmhouse.
But then she started contacting other thrift stores to see if they had any books for the dump to get off their hands.
One second-hand shop soon became seven.
Julie Leroux runs the Salvation Army’s second hand shop in Cornwall. For the past three years, she says, the store has reserved 300 to 700 books for Gaudet every week. She is pleased that the books are not wasted.
“[Myriam’s] Vision, their need for books…is as strong as ours,” she said. “We want to make sure everyone gets a chance to read.”
These days Gaudet comes back with more than 2,000 books every time she does her weekly round, but now she has “no place to keep them”.
In late December, she went to her store’s Facebook page to look for a solution.
She has a tentative plan to build a small storage building, but what she can afford is limited.
“No one gets rich by running a bookstore,” she said. “You do it because you love books.”
“Value for every book”
Gaudet is driven by a desire to keep the books long enough for the right buyer to come along.
Monique Sauvé came to Red Cart Books looking for a meditation guide to help her utilize the healing space she had just created in her home.
She says it’s difficult to find good books on the subject, but New Chakra Healing by Cyndi Dale – once destined for the landfill – sat on a shelf waiting for her.
“It’s nice to see that they aren’t being thrown away because every book has value,” Sauvé said.