Friday, January 18, 2008

Making a Living from Old Books

Books are so darn heavy in groups of more than five or six that I never imagined that people living on the streets would bother with pulling them from trash bins for their resale value. But, from the sound of this New York Times article, the practice is not uncommon in the city.

By 9:15 most mornings, Thomas Germain, a ruddy-faced man in a yellow slicker, is pushing his oversize black wheeled suitcase down 12th Street in the direction of the Strand Bookstore on Broadway. Sometimes, the suitcase is stuffed full of books; sometimes the books fill a box or two or three that he balances carefully on top of it, a mass of swaying literature he rolls all the way from Greenwich Village or SoHo or Stuyvesant Town.

By 9:30, he’s often sitting outside the Strand, waiting for the store to open, drinking a breakfast of Budweiser with his friend Brian Martin, who’s pushed and pulled his own collection of books to the same destination in a large, teetering grocery cart.
Hundreds of men and a smaller number of women eke out a living scavenging books in Manhattan, according to Mitchell Duneier, author of “Sidewalk,” a book about the subculture of sidewalk book scavengers and vendors. Some of them sell their books on the street; others, the less entrepreneurial, or the more impatient, go for the surefire cash at the Strand. When the store opened that Monday morning, Tommy Books and Leprechaun each in turn emptied their boxes onto the counter, where Neil Winokur, a Strand employee, quickly sorted them into two piles.
Read the whole article to find out about one enterprising "rookie" who made a great find for himself and for the bookstore. Despite the obstacles faced by these guys, I think this still qualifies as a "feel good story."


  1. Innovative! I like the idea. I've sold some books before on Ebay, old teaching books. They went very well and cleared some space for me at home. Can't bear to sell my novels though, i've done that before in house moves and regretted it hugely.

  2. Great article! They remind me of some of the lesser characters in John Dunning's first book-detective mystery "Booked to Die". It's amazing how knowledgeable some of these 'bum looking' guys can be about their book scouting.

  3. We saw this happening in Seattle and Portland! Great way to recycle! :D

  4. I know exactly what you mean, Lynn. I have a hard time selling books unless they are duplicates and I have better editions of them on hand...or I really hate them or their author. In that case, out they go.

  5. I've run into some book scouts on occasion here in Houston, Trav, and I have to say that their knowledge is impressive...some of them look pretty down and out but their love of books and their knowledge stand out. I love talking with them.

  6. Gotta agree, Maggie...I'd much rather see someone, anyone, pull them from the trash and give them a second life instead of having them end up in the dump somewhere. And, if it provides a little cash to folks who don't have many other options, that's another good thing.