Posted Wednesday, March 3, 2021 10:40 am
By Stan Cutler
Located at 84 Bethlehem Pike, Hilltop Books opened its doors to a handful of invited shoppers on three weekends in February. Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library Board Member and Interim bookstore manager Laura Lucas stood behind a plexiglass anti-COVID shield and welcomed the patrons to Hilltop’s “soft launch”.
The store is a project of the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library. Lucas led the efforts of other Board members and dozens of volunteers in organizing, shelving and ultimately selling the thousands of volumes donated in October 2020.
Customers must book appointments and follow the store's COVID protocols: masks, hand sanitizing, social distancing when browsing, and a preference for credit card payment instead of cash. Because Hilltop Books is not yet fully operational, Lucas asks, “Please be kind to all our Friends volunteers who are trying to figure this out.” Volunteers can sign up at https://chlibraryfriends.org. There is no required membership fee to join. Until further notice, the limited number of patrons will be drawn from the volunteer pool.
Hilltop Books occupies five rooms on the first floor of an 1870s building. The space has been completely rehabbed, with new lighting and varnished heart pine floors. The big sash windows flood the front room with natural light, lending a cheerful aspect to the entry and its floor-to-ceiling shelves of “general fiction”. The second room, the largest, features a carved, black marble fireplace and a view of the patio. It houses an astonishing assortment of non-fiction books.
In the hallway at the back of the non-fiction room, there is a wall of mystery and detective books. The hallway leads to the children’s book room, with hundreds of volumes, a play table and an assortment of games and blocks to occupy the kids.
At the back, next to the clean, spacious bathroom, is a bright chamber with windows on three sides that the Friends had intended as an office. But there were so many books that, when a generous donor gave the Friends seven decorative shelf units, they opted to put them in the office and fill them with more non-fiction, science fiction and other genres.
Curious readers will find hard-to-classify books at the back of the store.
Lucas estimates that about 7,000 books are on offer.
The enterprise is intended to achieve several objectives. Foremost, it raises money for the Free Library of Philadelphia Branch at 8711 Germantown Avenue. City funding is inadequate, never enough to keep the building in good repair, make technology upgrades and capital improvements, or develop programs. The Friends try to fill the gaps.
Hilltop Books is also meant to fill a shopping gap. Hillers can travel to the box stores at Chemical Road and wander in the corporate vastness of the Barnes and Noble, but that’s not as much fun as exploring the small rooms and jammed shelves of a store like Hilltop. During the course of preparing for the opening, the Board heard nothing but enthusiastic support for the idea. In a neighborhood where 40% of the adults hold post-graduate degrees, this is not surprising. People in Chestnut Hill love books. Hilltop is meant to give them their store.
And it is also meant as a kind of recycling center. Books accumulate. Libraries don’t have the staff to sort the thousands that can pile up on their doorsteps. Nor do they have the systems to lend donated books. The books in our homes are not trash – they have great value as sources of entertainment and knowledge. For many people, throwing out a book is anathema. The Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library believe you would like to recycle books so that their knowledge and entertainment value extends into the community. At the moment, says Lucas, “Donations are on hold until space is available on the shelves.” She hopes that the Friends will be able to accept donations on a regular basis, perhaps monthly, once Covid restrictions are lifted and the books are sold. If the February “soft opening” is any indication, the store will sell hundreds of books every week. The Friends will announce the donation drives through this newspaper and via social media.
The store will, eventually, develop an online presence to maximize the revenue potential with online sales for local pickup. In order to achieve that, significant volunteer resources will be required to digitize the inventory.
Having a permanent space allows the Friends to be innovative. “For example,” said Lucas, “Hilltop will feature a monthly ‘Family-night Game Rental’ club for $15 a month. Club members will rent two games or puzzles each week; eight different games per month. It should give folks fun options for what to do on weekends. We are trying to build up our game and puzzle inventory. If you have board games and puzzles to donate, please bring them to the store.”
The property is on the end of the row of tall white buildings around the corner from the Chestnut Hill East SEPTA station. There is a half-acre lot next to the store that will be levelled, paved and landscaped; once finished, the outside space will be used for the relaxation of customers and as a venue for reader clubs and fund-raising events. The work is scheduled to commence this Spring.
Once the COVID restrictions are lifted, the store will fully open. Chestnut Hill’s new normal, because of Hilltop Books, will be a bit better than the old normal.
Because of COVID restrictions, no more than seven patrons can be in the store along with three volunteer staff. Until further notice, the limited number of patrons will be drawn from the volunteer pool. There is no required membership fee to join.
Customers with appointments abide by the store's COVID protocols: hand sanitizing on entry and social distancing when browsing. Credit card payment is preferred over cash.Posted Wednesday, March 3, 2021 10:40 am
Posted Wednesday, February 10, 2021 11:00 am
by Laura Lucas, Friends of Chestnut Hill Library Board Member
Friends of Chestnut Hill Library is working on a soft opening of our bookstore and will announce details soon. Meanwhile to tempt book lovers, we are holding a fundraiser to share our love of books.
This Valentine's Day, the Friends of the Library are getting into the matchmaking business. Are you interested in a mysterious and entertaining date? For a $5 donation, the Friends will set you up on a Blind Date with a Book. You may choose your genre, so while we can't guarantee a happily ever after, we can promise no awkward small talk and that your outfit will be perfect! Set up a Blind Date with a Book for yourself or make one as a gift to another.
Pre-orders from our Friends website (CHLibraryFriends.org) are encouraged though we will have a limited number of “blind date” books available curbside. Pick up from outside our store location at 84 Bethlehem Pike between 12 and 4 p.m. on February 12 or 13.
We will also have a limited number of special Valentines produced by our board member and local artist Joanne Dhody, who has designed for Laurel Hill Gardens and the Mutter Museum.
If you are still looking for ways to show your Valentine or friends you are thinking of them, the Friends of Chestnut Hill will also be selling special bookplates for $25 for books to be added to the Chestnut Hill Library’s permanent collections. It’s a fun way to recognize a book lover or special event.
Visit our website for how to get involved with the Friends or support the bookstore and watch for more information about our soft opening. Thank you to more than 150 neighbors who have already signed up as volunteers and share our excitement over a bookstore opening in Chestnut Hill.
Posted Thursday, December 17, 2020 11:30 am
By Stan Cutler
Setting up a new business is complicated. Last Spring, the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library committed to opening a neighborhood bookstore. The Friends have always sold used books, but it was an unwieldy, labor-intensive, time-consuming operation. On Monday afternoons, we removed boxes and bins of books from closets in the Community Room at the back of the Library and set them out on folding tables. We had to reverse the process four hours later. Then we did it all over again, Monday after Monday. We charged ridiculously low prices because it was more of a book giveaway program, a literacy outreach program, than a store. Importantly, the sale also recycled books, saving them from landfills and incinerators.
Despite the low prices, we collected money to support Library programs, help maintain the building and to supplement the Central Library’s allocation for new books. The Gently Used Book Sale was a beloved Chestnut Hill institution. Truth be told, the main reason we had to stop the sale was the death of Reneé Polsky, the fine lady who provided the energy, leadership and love that made the project work. We miss her a lot. And the Library misses the revenue.
Bowman Properties wanted a tenant for the first floor of a 19th Century building on Bethlehem Pike, a block east of Germantown Avenue. A deal was struck. In exchange for a quality bookstore, Bowman Properties, the owner of 84 Bethlehem Pike, agreed to offer an attractive lease and to help rehab the space.
How on earth do you establish a viable bookstore in the 21st Century? You need lawyers and accountants. You need to file forms with the local, state and federal government. You have to buy software and computers, arrange for utilities and internet business tools. You have to get three different kinds of insurance. You have to rewrite the organizational bylaws. You have to get shelving and the proper lighting. And you need to employ someone to run the operation. We are betting that our investments will pay off. We are convinced that there is a demand for books because they offer a uniquely wonderful experience. We love books and know that you do, too.
By far the easiest part of the process has been obtaining the inventory. It’s hard for independent bookstores to compete with the giants like Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Even those big corporations operate on a knife-edge of profitability because of the many media competitors on the internet. But they must buy their inventory - we don’t have to. We want to save the books and you don’t want to throw yours away. In October, we ran three, four-hour book donation events. We collected thousands of volumes, far more inventory than can fit in the 20 massive wooden bookcases that we have attached to the newly painted walls. Small teams of dedicated volunteers have been sorting and categorizing the trove ever since. We could go faster if it weren’t for the Covid restrictions. Once we shelve the current collection, we will ask you for more books. It’s our intention to continually refresh the inventory to entice repeat customers.
The photo above shows the completion of one of our tasks. We took off our masks momentarily so you could see how happy we are. I am holding an empty box. James, our store manager, is holding the portable Point-of-Sale terminal that came inside. The little gizmo connects to the credit card companies, the bank, the taxing authorities. It prints receipts and connects to our inventory database. It’s a cloud-based system with open architecture. It took a lot of research to find suitable technology at a price a cash-strapped 501(C)(3) can afford. For James and me, opening the package was like opening a present.
There is still a great deal of work to be done before we can greet you as a customer. The day will come more slowly than we like because the pandemic restrictions limit the number of people who can be working together in an enclosed space. Besides, there would be little point in opening a store until the pandemic risks significantly abate. Please be patient.
For information about the Friends, to volunteer or to donate, go to https://chlibraryfriends.org.
Posted Wednesday, October 28, 2020 10:05 am
By Stan Cutler
The Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library plan to open a bookstore at 84 Bethlehem Pike. The store will be a non-profit enterprise with all proceeds over and above operating costs to be donated to our branch of the Free Library for repairs, book purchases and to fund programs for neighbors of all ages. The space, thanks to Bowman Properties, has been nicely rehabilitated. Mount Airy resident James Gleeson (above) has agreed to be our manager. We are very happy to have found someone with his experience and enthusiasm. We’re certain that you will enjoy your dealings with him as you shop in the store.
James’ first task is to sort and inventory the thousands of books you dropped off for us last week. We knew that you wanted to share your books, to clear space on your shelves for new ones, but we couldn’t be sure how many we could collect. As the saying goes, be careful what you wish for. We announced that we would accept books from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on three different days last week. We had planned to store the donations at a vacant store across the street. That filled up on the first day. On the second day, we started using another, nearby vacant building. We filled three large rooms with books in that space before we were finished on day three. Wow! Thank you!
And many thanks to those of you who volunteered to help us schlep all the heavy boxes from cars into temporary storage. We couldn’t have gotten it done without your assistance. Nothing could be more different from the pleasures of reading than hauling boxes while wearing face masks. When we first announced our plans a month ago, we asked if you would like to volunteer to help with the project. Your response was overwhelming. So many of you volunteered! So many of you have told us that you are looking forward to once again having a neighborhood bookstore! Your enthusiasm for the project is deeply gratifying and provides more than enough incentive to keep us working toward opening day.
Everyone asked when the store would open and whether we had decided on a name for it. We are working hard on the details necessary for success. Soon, all of our paperwork will be in order. Soon, the two-dozen bookshelves will be installed. We will start filling the shelves once that’s done. We need to install a point of sale terminal, back-office systems and establish an online presence. We will have to train volunteers. There is much to be done before we can open our doors. Please be patient. We will announce our opening as soon as we possibly can.
Many people have asked us to receive more books. Right now, we don’t have space for them. We will announce dates for the next round of book donations as soon as we can. Once we’re up and running, we will accept book donations frequently. We appreciate your patience.
Our startup costs are mounting. We would very much appreciate financial donations to make sure that you will have an ideal book shopping experience from day one. Please go to chlibraryfriends.org if you’d like to contribute.
As for the name, we should have one soon. After we announced that we wanted your suggestions, you sent us 164 likely bookshop names. We have narrowed the choices down to six. Stay tuned.
Tuesday, October 1 at 1:30 a.m.
Tuesday, October 15 at 1:30 p.m.
Tuesday, October 29 at 1:30 p.m.
Wednesday, October 30 at 1:30 p.m.
Tuesday, November 12 at 1:30 p.m.
Tuesday, November 26 at 1:30 p.m.
More than 100 neighbors attended the "Discover Philadelphia's Great Trees" presentation authors Ned Barnard and Catriona Briger. Afterward, pleased to have learned so much, most folks lingered for hot cider, cookies and friendly conversation.
It was an auspicious event, like an opening kickoff, or the top of the first inning. Our public media center, the branch library on Germantown Avenue, opened the community room for the first presentation to take place there since the drop-down projection screen broke years ago.
January 22nd, Cyber Age Politics and News Industry Reform.
Local author Stan Cutler will give a talk about how the FCC changed the rules and changed democracy in the process. Stan is the author of a book on Philadelphia political conventions and six novels. He was a member of Penn State's Communications faculty and currently teaches courses on politics, rhetoric and media at nearby lifelong learning centers.
January 29th, Civil War Medicine: What Went Right.
The extraordinary levels of battlefield carnage during the Civil War demanded a new, scientific approach to medicine – previously an art. Documentary film maker Carole Adrienne presents a compelling slide show from the 4-part series she is developing for PBS to premier on WHYY.
February 5th, Chimpanzees, Jane and Me
Scientist Bill Konstant tells stories about training chimpanzees in America, being inspired by the work of Dr. Jane Goodall, and helping to ensure the survival of chimpanzees in their native Africa. He shares insights from a forty-year career as a wildlife preservationist on four continents – personal experiences with the world’s most endangered and interesting animals.
Published in The Chestnut Hill Local
November 30, 2018
by Stan Cutler
Those of us who grew up in Philadelphia used the Free Library system a lot. Before there were so much media clamoring for our attention, we had a robust media infrastructure that was integral to our community. But it was communal – not commercial. It was free, it was ours and it did an amazing job.
The Library was like our Internet, where we physically (not virtually) went for entertainment and enlightenment – a place to and from which we walked with pounds of books. We were hooked on the library — in no small measure because we had to keep going back to return the books. What a gimmick. We live in a different age.
“The mission of the Free Library of Philadelphia is to advance literacy, guide learning, and inspire curiosity. Its vision is to build an enlightened community devoted to lifelong learning.”
Here’s a bit of irony: I downloaded the FLP’s mission statement (above) while in my snug office on Highland Avenue. It took me 30 seconds to type “FLP Philadelphia mission” into a Google search and copy the results from the FLP home page. Ta-dah! Back in the day, I would have had to walk to the library and look it up.
Please notice that the word “book” does not appear in the statement. We keep the books because they are a terrific medium of communication, superior to electronic media in many ways. But there are other ways the FLP’s resources can be used “to build an enlightened community devoted to lifelong learning.”
Let’s be loud and energetic advocates for the Free Library of Philadelphia in general and for our Chestnut Hill branch in particular. Let’s do so because we love books and because we are advocates for learning, literacy, curiosity, and because we want to live in a community devoted to lifelong learning.
When you think of the great building on the 8700 block of the Avenue, understand that it is not just a valuable book collection. Much more should happen there if it is to fulfill its purpose. We will use this column to put forward your ideas (and mine) about how we can energize the library, rejuvenate it as a public media center with a communal, enlightened mission.
What does that mean? What’s a public media center? How does it work? Our library is unusual because it has a spacious community room that is unused most of the time. Should it be an adult education center? Should it send as well as receive? Can it be used to learn technology? Is it a podcast site? Is it a classroom or a lecture hall? Is it all of these or none of these? I think it’s up to us to decide. That’s, in part, what these essays are about.
The Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library welcome your ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org
Published in The Chestnut Hill Local
November 21, 2018
by Stan Cutler
Not For Sale: Top of the Hill property on the 8700 block of Germantown Avenue. It’s a single-floor building with 20-foot ceilings and more than 3,000square feet of hardwood floor. The interior has beautiful natural light from enormous mullioned windows. The place was built in 1909 and has been regularly upgraded and carefully maintained. What’s it worth?
The property comes with a few extras. A 1980s addition, paid for with donations from the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library, features a spacious community room that is unused most of the time. We, the folks who live in Chestnut Hill, could use it as a forum. We could take and offer courses on fascinating subjects. It would be a non-political, non-commercial space where we could be at our best. How much is a place like that worth?
Smart phone technologies – portable internet in our pockets – have been infused into our society as profoundly as books. The free public library was once used like the internet is used in the 21st Century. The library didn’t do some things nearly as well as the internet. The internet retrieves stuff so much faster, forcing us to absorb information far more rapidly and in smaller chunks. Haste makes waste. The library’s operating system, its infrastructure, functions differently. In so doing it adds value to mindful experiences. What’s that kind of infrastructure worth?
You cannot put a price on the library because it is far more than real estate. Its enormous value is not mercenary. It cannot be privatized. Privatization is the scourge of public service and good government. Schools, hospitals, clinics – all offloaded to the faster-better-cheaper crowd. I abhor the privatization of schools. I worry about the libraries. The City Government, budget after budget, feels pressure to cut the funding. We understand. But…
We, the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library, are advocates for the Free Library system founded by Benjamin Franklin. We will also be heard. We argue for more funding. We argue for improvements. We argue on behalf of our American heritage.
You can join us at chlibraryfriends.org
Published in The Chestnut Hill Local
October 15, 2018
Why I Joined Up.
Our library is a beautiful, iconic place on the 8700 hundred block of the avenue. I was there last week when a whole bunch of second-graders from Jenks School walked in through the front door. They were quiet, as if in church, marching in single file, wide-eyed and well-behaved, around the checkout desk, through the collection, past the computer workstations, to the Community Room way in the back, where Cynthia and Alyssa Kreilick would read aloud from their illustrated book.
Some neighbors had persuaded me to go to an evening meeting of Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library. The morning the kids showed up, a few days later, I was wondering whether I was wasting my time. I was at the library for a follow-up chat with folks who want to persuade the Mural Arts Society to decorate a wall. And then the kids came in and reminded me. If the library fails, our American community loses a vital organ. Preserving the library, honoring its purpose, making it better as America evolves, are efforts worthy of my time and yours.
I felt a joy as the children filed by, all clean and tidy and serious-faced, so beautiful, our future. At the library, we are on our very, very best behavior. To be in such a wonderful place is our right. And it is a privilege that we honor lest we be un-welcome there. I needed to be reminded.
I lead a seminar group focused on media and politics. We discuss how the ways we communicate influence how we vote, the news we seek, and the state of our culture. A historian in the room told us a surprising fact about literacy in America; we were once the most literate country on the planet. Common Sense, read by half the American colonial population, summarized in the Declaration of Independence, was a hot spark of the Revolution. Uncle Tom’s Cabin energized caring Americans and legitimized the Civil War for universal freedom. Our Presidents were enlightened men who regarded love of knowledge as proof of character. We are Americans because we can read. America is America because of the written word.
The tides of technology and economics are relentless. Our public schools, community newspapers, and public libraries anchor us to our finest heritage. In the 21st Century, libraries, public schools and newspapers are threatened as never before. We have a duty to do whatever we can to empower the institutions of literacy, to stand for them against the tides.
Another idea I heard at the meeting was to place a regular column of library news in the Chestnut Hill Local. As you can see, the editors and publisher have agreed. This is the first installment. We will keep you posted about what folks like us are doing.
The title of Cynthia and Alyssa Kreilick’s book is “Lucha And Lola”. As the kids filed quietly out to return to Jenks, I could tell that they’d had a great lesson. (By the way, of 220 Philadelphia public schools, only 8 have Librarians. Jenks is not one of them.)
Hill resident Stan Cutler is a member of the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library Friends. He's also a novelist who has written political opinions for the Local in the past.
October | Chestnut Hill Library’s LEAP (Literacy Enrichment After School Program) was off to an exciting start with our entry into the Morris Arboretum’s Decorate the Scarecrow contest.
A collaboration of LEAP staff creating the scarecrow (After School Leader Marlene Sider, Teen Leaders Charlotte Fox and Natia Anthony), Friends of the CH Library funding the scarecrow and delivering materials (President Phyllis Donahue), and CH Children’s & Supervising Librarian Prather O’Donnell initiating the project and then delivering the scarecrow to the Arboretum.
In this photograph, courtesy of TLA Charlotte Fox,(from left to right) are participants Khalid Aljadaani, Raneem Aljadaani, Chip Amuso, Finn Amuso, and Elijah Museau, with ASL Marlene Sider. Participants not pictured are Matt Gallagher, Mimi Gallagher, and Grace Remus.
Check out our scarecrow, Bookworm Father Bob (complete with handmade book and LEAP backpack), along with other entries at the Morris Arboretum through October 31st. Scary!
New Board members elected to Chestnut Hill Library Friends are (from left) Ashley Brenner, Karen Freedman, Ann Marie Arment, Lindsey Pennington, Jan LeSuer, Phyllis Donahue, President of the Friends Board, Stan Cutler, and Prather O’Donnell, Library Branch Manager. Missing from the photo is Ilene Blain. All have been elected to a two-year term.
September 17, 2018
On Monday, September 17, seven new members were elected to the Board of Directors of the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library for two-year terms. This move expands the Board from its current 10 to 17 members.
The Friends are a voluntary, non-profit organization with the mission of promoting the needs of the Library’s patrons and expanding utilization of its facilities.
New members on the Board are Ann Marie Arment, Ilene Blain, Ashley Brenner, Stan Cutler, Karen Freedman, Jan LeSuer and Lindsey Pennington. All have been elected to a two-year term and will serve on various committees.
“Over the years we’ve provided funding for the community room and the garden,” said Phyllis Donahue, President of the Friends. “We have sponsored programs for adults and children, paid for magazine and newspaper subscriptions, and even helped furnish the library. But we are planning for increased activity and support.”
The organization is quick to recognize that the Free Library of Philadelphia does a great job of expanding use of the library system and has been a leader in establishing “21st Century Libraries.” However, in recent years, the FLP System has experienced budget reductions that have contributed to staff shortages, causing occasional and unexpected, daily branch closings.
Prather O’Donnell, Chestnut Hill Branch Manager and Children’s Librarian, relies on the Friends Organization to help fund programs like the successful summer reading program for kids.
“Without the Friends Group,” said O’Donnell, “we wouldn’t be able to host our popular ‘Playgroup for Infants & Toddlers’ or have supplies and snacks for the regular Thursday ‘Build It! Club.’ But the role of the Friends Group is more crucial than ever – for support needed to advocate for full funding to be restored to our city’s public library system.”
“The library does a great job of providing programs for children and families,” said Board member Lyn Buchheit, “but we seem to fall short on Adult Programs – we have been functioning without an Adult Librarian for over a year now. Frankly, I think the Friends are in a great position to bring more neighbors into the library, and to take more of our library to the community.”
“The Friend Organization’s fundraising, primarily the weekly used book sale and membership drives, means our community is helping us supplement our Library in a number of ways – from paying for newspaper and magazine subscriptions to buying furniture for the Library atrium, and by installing a kitchen in the basement for use by the staff and for potential programs,” said treasurer Mike Henry.
Bringing on new Board Members, with diverse interests, experience and skills is seen by current Board Members as an important step into the future.
Stan Cutler, a local author and newly elected Board member said, "I have a romantic notion of libraries. To me, they are an essential element of The Enlightenment, no less than universities, public schools and democratic elections. As "content" increasingly takes the place of books in our culture, we weaken the intellectual foundations of American democracy. I hope we, as Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library, can find ways remind the community of the vital role of books in our lives by providing more exciting and relevant services."
“We are getting ready for our Fall Book Sale, which takes place at the Library during the Chestnut Hill Fall for the Arts Festival on September 30th,” added Renee Polsky, a board member who helped organize the Gently Used Books Sale in 1995, “it not only gives us a chance to sell books for prices affordable to most people. Most books are twenty-five cent to $1 – and it is a great way to meet people in our community.”
Additional members of the Friends Board are Beth Bartle, Lyn Buchheit, Carol Duncan, Joanne Dhody, Phyllis Donahue, Prather O’Donnell, Mike Henry, Renee Polsky, Carol Romsloe, and Marlene Sider.
For more information about the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library, contact the Friends at email@example.com.
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84 Bethlehem Pike, Philadelphia PA 19118
Store Phone: 215-315-8588