Chuck Casale hauls five paper sacks of books into a quaint storefront on North Ivy Street in Medford, the new home of the five-year-old Rogue Book Exchange. It's a place where locals can donate and receive books and other forms of media for free. Casale has utilized the store to reduce what once was a 10,000-book collection down to a meager 2,000.
"It's terrific. I come in. I donate books, and I usually take more back than I bring in," he says.
In addition to donations of cash, books, movies and music, the Rogue Book
Exchange wish-list includes beanbag chairs for a newly created children's area and a child-sized table-and-chair set.
Where: 100 N. Ivy St., Medford
"Of course, when I'm done with those, I take them back and get more."
One of 50-plus visitors per day, minimum, Casale says the nonprofit store is a welcoming place with an appealing business model.
Created in 2007 after a $23 million budget shortfall closed local libraries for six months, the store offers an inexpensive way for local residents to share — by donating, receiving and even returning yet again — books, music and movies.
The concept puts media in the hands of those who need or want it and keeps materials out of landfills. While Jackson County ultimately outsourced library operations to a Maryland company and was able to reopen the county's 15 branches with limited hours, the store has thrived, growing larger each year.
Open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, the store is accessible to downtown foot traffic and, says store manager Margaret Parker, is a friendly, not-library-silent atmosphere.
Once housed in a 1,500-square-foot warehouse along Biddle, with no windows and limited space, the book exchange eased into its new, 3,200-square-foot digs in early August.
Five years in the making, the new, bigger store still baffles newcomers, says board member and volunteer coordinator Jan Martin. They can't help but wonder, in a time when few things are free, whether there's a catch.
"People walk in, and they're not quite sure how it works," says Martin with a laugh.
"We say, 'OK, let us tell you about it.' And when we tell them the way things work, they always say, 'Really? It's all just ... free?' "
Free is possible, Martin points out, by online sales of a small percentage of the books that come in. In addition, a donation box, suggesting $2 per visit, and a handful of extra-nice books sold for $1 and $2, keep a small cash flow trickling in.
Board president Vince Ceriello says the store's collection, between those on the shelves and others in storage, is up to nearly 14,000 books.
"Of all our inventory, half is usable, and half goes to recycling," says Ceriello. "Of the half that's usable, most of it goes on the shelves, and a few are sold online.
"But someone will bring two bags of books, with 20 or 30 books, leave with only two or three. It's a high-class problem that the inventory replenishes itself faster than we can get rid of it."
Parker, who stumbled onto the store as a patron, then a volunteer, and is one of a few paid staff, says both regulars and newcomers realize the value of "free."
"Ninety-eight percent of people come in with something in their hands, whether it's cash, books or videos," says Parker.
"When I first moved here and was job hunting, this was my getaway. My place to do something for me, take a break and enjoy myself. You can wander around looking for books, take as many as you want and come in as often as you feel like.
"And you know what? This is the happiest place in town."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.