by Ian Burnette
The Book Warehouse, a charitable bookstore operated by the Friends of the Knox County Public Library and located outside Mount Vernon, serves as a wonderland of books for the hundreds of readers who pass through its doors and for Hemingway and Agatha Christie, the store’s “mascot” cats. If you stop by, the cats, who frequent the isles, just may recommend “A Tail of Two Kitties” with a swing of their tails.
Linette Porter-Metler and her husband Randy Metler, along with a group of volunteers, rescued 100,000 abandoned books from a personal collection in a building outside Mount Vernon. Their goal was to share their love of the written word by feeding the shelves of the Book Warehouse, whose profits support the branches and national cultural programs of the Public Library of Mount Vernon and Knox County. For five dollars, visitors can take home an entire bag of books; the only trouble is deciding which ones to choose.
Over the last 20 years, what started as a small, annual sale of discarded library books has grown into a full-fledged operation of warehouse-sized proportions, with an inventory of over 300,000 items all donated by libraries, individuals, booksellers, national publishers and even authors. “It kind of just comes to us,” said Porter-Metler, former president of the Friends of the Public Library and co-founder volunteer manager of the Book Warehouse, about the influx of books they receive during from May through mid-November, when the Warehouse is open for business.
Porter-Metler, Metler and a team of dedicated volunteers have given every spare minute of their time — and sometimes more — to develop the book sale, doing everything from alphabetizing thousands of titles to reclaiming shelving units from a field in a snowstorm to hunting down the store’s current location at a former meat processing facility a couple of miles off SR-13 in Mount Vernon.
“We were desperately looking for a place to have a bookstore” Porter-Metler said. The book sale was quickly outgrowing the space they had, and the cramped location felt disorganized. Porter-Metler knew that if shoppers could easily find what they were looking for, more sales would be made. Five years ago, Metler discovered the processing facility empty and secured it for the store.
The Friends of the Knox County Public Library now makes use of thousands of square feet retrofitted with row upon row of shelves — some donated, some built from scratch, some pulled from the houses of volunteers. “My husband will grab something out of our house and it’s suddenly [in the Warehouse],” Porter-Metler said. In fact, the store’s main room has a wall lined with shelves built from the reclaimed decking of the Old Kenyon pool, which was located in what is now the Bolton Dance Studio.
The organization’s volunteers have worked hard to make the Book Warehouse clean and comfortable, but the building’s character remains a big part of the experience. An out-of-commission flash-freezer, complete with a vault-style door — a relic of the space’s meatpacking past — serves as the children’s reading room. Drop ceilings throughout are baked deep brown from the building’s stint as a pie factory. Being there, hearing the employees talk, one gets the sense that the warehouse is a place with a story worthy of a good piece of fiction: years of prosperity followed by a steep decline and now, a second chance.
As if keeping the store up and running isn’t enough, the Book Warehouse team pursues a number of outreach programs. “We now have about 42 worldwide mission projects,” Porter-Metler said. These include sending books to troops in Baghdad and donating printed encyclopedias to the Amish communities in Knox County. Friends of the Public Library has a game plan: wherever people need books, they’ll send them, always free of charge.
If you’re an avid reader looking for a good book or would like to volunteer with the Friends of the Public Library, the Book Warehouse might be the place for you. It is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Thursdays through Saturdays, and is located at 13081 Coffing Road in Mount Vernon. For more information, call (740) 485-9193.