Thursday, December 1 2022

Darby resident Peggy Smith has always worked to get books into the hands of her community. She helped found the Library Bookstore as a source of literature, fellowship and funding for the Darby Community Public Library.

Smith said books are essential.

“You can’t do without it,” she said. “Books are so necessary that they are your friends. I don’t know how people do without reading. Books are needed by volunteers, library workers, and people who collect them. People stop on their way on vacation because they pay a donation, so it’s not too expensive for them and they can take a bunch of books with them on the trip.

Smith said she can’t remember exactly when the bookstore started because it all started with book sales events. She said people would donate books and a group of book lovers would collect them, sell what they could and store the rest in the fire hall, or the VFW room, or the Odd Fellows room or just wherever they could. She remembers having to clean mouse droppings from stored books before taking them out to the book sale. She remembered with gratitude that the students of the Trapper Creek Job Corps had helped take the books out of storage and clean them up for sale.

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“We finally decided we needed a bookstore,” Smith said. “Gene Huckstadt had a room next to the restaurant in the park and he rented it to us for a while. Then we thought we needed shelving and continued to develop our ideas. We finally found the building we are in now, the people who owned it had low rent for us because the bookstore doesn’t raise a lot of money.

The goal was to make books available to the community at a reasonable price, which turned out to be the amount they wanted to donate.

“Initially, we just wanted to sell enough to pay the rent,” Smith said. “It was after that that we started using the excess to donate to the library. Most of the books that people bring go to the library first, and they keep what they can use, and then send the rest to us to sell.

Unpopular, stationary, or duplicate books go in an outside gift basket. Volunteers sent additional books to the libraries in Wisdom, Arlee and Florence.

“We sent them to other places in Montana if there was a need and people were going there,” Smith said.

She said the bookstore provides community service by putting books into people’s hands for a simple donation.

“We have a lot of seniors with very limited income and they don’t have a lot of money to buy books,” Smith said. “They buy the first one and then come and exchange it. We don’t worry because they read and are happy. They are alone and books are always your friends. People who don’t have a lot don’t have to pay a lot. The other donors are very generous.

Occasionally, bookstore volunteers would bring in an expert to appraise old, classic and rare books. Ada Almgren managed the bookstore for years, and the bookstore grew as customers continued to donate financial and books. She retired and Juli Winthers became the new manager.

“She made it really gorgeous and I think it will go so well under her leadership,” Smith said. “Julie is so excited.”

Winthers said all proceeds would go to rent, part of the phone bill and the Darby Library.

“We rely 100% on donations to complete it, we rely 100% on volunteers to make it work, and we rely 100% on financial donations from people to keep our doors open,” said Winthers. “Peggy Smith is 89 years old and has been with the bookstore since the very beginning. She is such an amazing woman and no one knows the ins and outs of the bookstore better than her. She is the backbone of our volunteer community here, there is no doubt.

Winthers said recent funds have been set aside for the Darby High School store class to build additional shelves for the store.

“I’m really excited to involve them because it means another generation of readers,” Winthers said. “It really is a pretty cool place.”

The bookstore is currently open 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday to Saturday, at 204 Main Street in Darby. But Winthers said COVID numbers could change their hours of operation.

“In the event of a closure, we always have a basket of free books up front, so people aren’t totally without it,” she said. “It’s a shopping cart that we fill up daily. We accept donations all the time. At this time of year, it would be especially good if the books were in good condition.

The Darby Community Public Library was built in 2004 and the Main Street Bookstore opened somewhere between 2005 and 2007, Smith recalls.

Principal Stacie Rennaker said the library and bookstore are the same.

“The money made by the bookstore goes into the library’s operating budget,” said Rennaker. “The Darby Community Public Library has a whole team of founding volunteers. They built this amazing library and started and run the bookstore, Darby is blessed!


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