Leisah Woldoff

Secondhand, but not second-rate

Ruth Cohen, director of the Brandeis Book Shoppe and board member of the Phoenix chapter, displays one of the rare books donated to the bookstore. This book, “Wee Drappies” by Sir Harry Lauder, was published in 1932 and features an empty scotch bottle which fits into the book’s pages.

In a city dominated by corporate booksellers, one small Phoenix bookstore thrives on donations and uses the Internet to sell to the world.

The Brandeis Book Shoppe, operated by the Phoenix Chapter of the Brandeis University National Women’s Committee, was a natural transition from the group’s annual fund-raising book sale. Eventually “it got to the point that the city was growing so fast and we couldn’t get empty space in a shopping mall for a book sale,” says Ruth Cohen, bookshop director and Brandeis board member. So they decided to open a bookstore instead.

“When we first opened up the store, we didn’t really know much about how to put a store together,” Cohen recalls. “All our experience was on book sales.”

However, the group was persistent and in 1996, Brandeis volunteers started stocking shelves at 3343 N. Seventh Ave., Phoenix.

Over time, the facility’s interior slowly declined until it got to the point that Brandeis decided it needed a makeover.

“We decided to completely revamp it and we did,” Cohen says.

Over the past summer, volunteers ripped out the carpeting and replaced it with wooden floors and put in new bookshelves. “It’s been a labor of love,” Cohen says.

The Book Shoppe hosted a rededication ceremony and open house on Jan. 18, with guests Rabbi Albert Plotkin, Mayor Phil Gordon and former governor Rose Mofford.

About 60 people visited the Book Shoppe that day, some for the first time.

“The best part (of the open house) was that members of Brandeis who had never seen their bookstore came in and they stood there with their mouths open and said ‘this is so beautiful,’ ” Cohen says.

Volunteers run the store in shifts between 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday, and the facility also houses the chapter’s office.

Although the store mainly sells books, there are also collectibles, vintage jewelry and art – all donated. Books range from fiction of all genres and nonfiction from Afro-American History to Writing. The “Book Nook” in the back of the store offers sheet music, reference books, coffee table books and $1 bargain books.

Proceeds help support education, scientific research and student scholarships to Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass.

Virtual guests can browse store inventory on abebooks.com, an online marketplace for used, rare and out-of-print books.

Through that Web site, the Brandeis Book Shoppe is able to “sell books to the world,” Cohen says. The shop has shipped books throughout the United States, as well as to Australia, Canada, Japan and London, and other countries.

Last week, Yale University in New Haven, Conn., purchased “The Story of the Exposition” by Frank Morton Todd, a five-volume set about the Panama-Pacific International Exposition published in 1921, Cohen notes.

One of the most unusual donations the Book Shoppe has received was a collection of about 50 16-inch records of programs for radio stations that were sent overseas during World War II, Cohen says. A man from New York purchased the whole series. Another unusual donation was 25-30 years of playbills from Philadelphia and New York theaters.

Brandeis University National Women’s Committee was founded in 1948, the same year as Brandeis University. Eight Boston women were recruited to build a collection of books for the school’s library. Since then, the women’s committee has grown to 44,000 members in 91 chapters nationwide and expanded its support to student scholarships and research fellowships. By 1996, the number of book donations from the National Women’s Committee to Brandeis libraries reached one million.

The Phoenix chapter was founded in 1948 and currently has about 1,300 members, according to a Brandeis representative. Besides the bookstore, the local chapter offers classes, book and music groups and University on Wheels, an annual lecture program featuring Brandeis professors.

Brandeis often redonates books to a variety of organizations, including several local schools, John C. Lincoln Adult Day Healthcare, the Maricopa County Prison System, Phoenix Rescue Mission, Jewish Family & Children’s Service, Friends of the North Central Regional Library and the V.A. Medical Center. They also work with the United Methodist Outreach Ministry to help them supply to people in need and supply large-print books to senior centers, says Connie Weiss Flegenheimer, past president of the Phoenix chapter.

“We don’t throw anything away – we give it away,” Cohen says. “Anything we can’t sell that people give us, we see that (it gets) a good home.”

This article first appeared in the Jan. 30, 2004 issue of Jewish News of Greater Phoenix.