The real estate market must be improving, based on the number of book donations that Dick Lowenstein witnessed coming into the Westport Library for its 21st annual Summer Book Sale, a four-day event that begins Saturday.
Lowenstein, a book sale volunteer since 1996, is responsible for coordinating the pick-up of donated books and other items, which will number about 80,000 in 50 categories at this year's sale. He said the increased number of donations is coming from people who are telling Lowenstein they have sold their houses and are downsizing.
At the Pequot Library in the Southport section of Fairfield, volunteers have also seen a marked increase in books and other donations for their sale. The Pequot's five-day 53rd annual Summer Book Sale gets underway on Friday, July 26. But they are crediting the numbers to something else entirely.
Doug Fried, chairman of the Pequot book sale, said the increase came after a scare last spring, when the town's Board of Finance recommended a 2013-14 budget without the $350,000 in municipal funding for the privately owned library, which is open to the public.
That amount was counted on by library officials for one-third of its operating budget for the coming year, and the threat to eliminate the allocation -- it was later restored by the Representative Town Meeting -- prompted people to donate more money, books and time to the historic institution.
Fried said the Pequot sale has attracted quite a few new faces among the 240 volunteers for this year's event, "a positive result of the troubles we went through."
Although the funding was restored, Pequot officials said it was a reminder to staff and patrons of the library's value and the importance of the Summer Book Sale, which raises more than $150,000 each year selling about 150,000 books, CDs, DVDs and vinyl records in about 40 categories.
The event is said to be one of the largest sales of its kind in the Northeast.
In Westport, Kelle Ruden, the library's community relations director, said its summer sale brings in "six figures," which goes a long way to support all the library programs.
Aside from the economic bounty, both libraries' book sales provide a wealth of enjoyment.
For some, the sales are as much a summer pastime as sailing in Long Island Sound, and golfing and tennis at the Longshore and Patterson clubs.
There are people who actually plan their vacations around the Pequot book sale, according to Schuyler Huntoon, a five-year volunteer for that event.
Fried said one man from California schedules a visit to his daughter's home on the East Coast to coincide with the Pequot book sale, not to shop but to volunteer, as he has done since the late 1970s.
Both sales promise rare finds, as well as the typical literary fare. The Westport sale includes a 1610 Catholic German Bible in its original pigskin binding.
"To find it in relatively good shape after 400 years is unusual," Lowenstein said.
The Pequot sale features one of the rarest books in the world: The Bay Psalm Book, one of only 50 copies in the world of an 1862 printing. The original was the first book printed in North America in 1640.
A room at the Pequot will feature 125 first editions and other special books, including two works inscribed by Jean Paul Sartre, and numerous signed works of U.S. presidents and sports celebrities.
A complete inventory of the Pequot's special books will be available on the library's website one day prior to the book sale.
"There's a good selection and you can find hidden gems too," said Michael Bowersox, of Fairfield, as he recently dropped off books and videos at the Pequot. Some were purchased at previous book sales, he said.
Lowenstein sees the same in Westport. He does all the pricing of the books and often sees his tell-tale mark in a book that comes back to the library "many years later.
"My hand-writing, my scrawl is recognizable," he said.
He also sees a growing trend.
"Vinyl (albums are) big again," Lowenstein said.
Both libraries have new features this year. Westport used an event ticketing system to distribute 400 tickets online for early birds, 200 inside the library and 200 outside under the tents.
"Fourteen minutes after we went live (with the new sign-up feature), there were 317 requests for tickets," Lowenstein said.
At the Pequot, Fried said numbers are to be handed out beginning Thursday afternoon, the day before that library's book sale.
People in line before 3 p.m. Thursday will take precedence over the people, usually dealers, who place boxes in a line as a placeholder. In other words, people must physically be in line to receive a number, he said.
Space restrictions at the Westport Library, because of shared outdoor space with the Levitt Pavilion, which has moved its summer season to Jesup Green because of construction, will prohibit the use of boxes or other objects to hold places in line.
While the introduction of e-readers has reduced the donations of new novels, the turnout at both book sales speaks volumes about the lingering love for hand-held literature in this digital age, according to Sandy Zera, a three-year volunteer at the Pequot Library.
"I love to see so many people coming in and enjoying books; holding books in their hands," she said. "And architecturally, you can't beat this place."
There is no admission to both book sales.
BUY THE BOOKS
Westport Library, 20 Jesup Road, Westport; 203-291-4800, www.westportlibrary.org
Saturday, Sunday and Monday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m.
Tuesday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Monday, everything left is half-price; Tuesday, remaining items are free, although donations appreciated
Pequot Library, 720 Pequot Ave, Southport section of Fairfield; 203-259-0346, www.pequotlibrary.com
Friday, July 26, 9 a.m.-8 p.m., double the marked price
Saturday, July 27, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m., priced as marked
Sunday, July 28, 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m., priced as marked
Monday, July 29, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., half the marked price
Tuesday, July 30, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., $5 per bag day