Cardboard boxes and plastic storage bins were lined up outside the Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart’s gymnasium on Thursday night. Each saved a spot for a bookseller or an avid reader planning to stock up on summer reads or search for a treasured tome at the school’s used book sale.
This scene is familiar to the community of book sale enthusiasts who attend the Stone Ridge Used Book Sale every year. This year’s ritual was bittersweet — after 46 years, the Bethesda all-girls Catholic school hosted its final sale over the weekend.
“We are brokenhearted,” said Judy Hansen, the co-director of the sale. “Everyone that has worked hard for it is sad to see it go.”
In a letter to the Stone Ridge community, Catherine Ronan Karrels, the head of the school, said declining profit from the sale, campus enhancement, space needs and security concerns led the school to conclude the annual event.
“Stone Ridge is in a phase of tremendous growth right now, and we must determine what is best for our girls as we re-imagine our programs, our facilities, and our community,” Karrels wrote. “For many years now, the School’s administration and the Board of Trustees have analyzed the impact of the Used Book Sale, and have concluded that this is the right time to celebrate our final sale.”
Hansen said campus development and the logistics of holding the sale — the gymnasium closes for two weeks when volunteers set up the sale — are the major reasons the sale is ending.
“It’s not because book sales are down. It’s not because people are not interested in books. I think the biggest things are that they’re building upon campus and [the sale] takes up a lot of space,” Hansen said.
The event, which took place April 11 to 14 this year, draws more than 7000 people annually with its diverse selection of books and discounts on signed collectibles and sets. Once a one-room book nook at the school’s Christmas Bazaar, the sale expanded to become its own event.
Preparation for the sale is a yearlong process. Hansen said four to 20 people came to the school daily to donate books. For this year’s sale, approximately 150,000 books were donated to the school, Hansen said.
The final sale was well anticipated. Hansen said 400 people were waiting outside when the doors opened at 8 a.m. last Friday.
Peter Cohen, 65, of Rockville has attended the book sale with his wife, who is a book seller, for nine years. The couple arrived at 5:30 p.m. on Thursday to join prospective shoppers as they waited to reserve spots. Shoppers were not allowed to line up their boxes before 7 p.m.
“It’s fun. It’s one of the ways we maintain our culture,” Cohen said. “You still see there are enough people in this country who would love to have a book in their hands.”
Book seller Patrick Hussey, 38, of Parkville has attended the sale since 2005. He reserved a spot in line Thursday night and left his Baltimore County home at 5:45 a.m. Friday to beat the traffic to Bethesda.
“It’s a tradition for me,” Hussey said. “I’ve been to hundreds of book sales and this has always been my favorite.”
Shopping for history, business and finance books, Hussey said he will miss the sale, but he supports the school’s initiatives for students.
“This is a huge loss for the general readers and the book sale community. It will be sorely missed,” Hussey said. “I’m glad it will open up new opportunities for the students and school to accomplish their educational goals.”
Roxanne Littner, 60, of Bethesda is a sale volunteer and a friend of Hansen. After spending several years sorting books with fellow volunteers, Littner said, she’ll miss the camaraderie of people who love books.
“I think people are sad and taking the opportunity to get great books at a great price for the last time, for those of us who are not committed to the Kindle yet,” Littner said. “And there’s a loss of community. Every year, people mark this on their calendar. I can’t imagine what they could do instead.”
Volunteering at the sale has been a family tradition for Lorna McMahon, 43, of Kensington, and her daughter, Colleen, a freshman at Stone Ridge. Lorna started volunteering when she was a student at Stone Ridge and became the event’s volunteer coordinator as an adult.
Lorna said she is sad to see the sale end, but understands its logistical complexities.
“It’s sad because it’s such a unique way to reach out to the entire community, but it’s tricky because it involves storing books on campus,” Lorna said.
She said she’ll miss the community of booksellers that came together.
“For me, it’s the familiar faces I see every year. There are dealers I know on a first-name basis because they’ve been coming for so many years,” Lorna said.
This year was Colleen’s first time volunteering as a Stone Ridge student. She said it may take her family a while to close this chapter of their lives.
“I don’t know if it’s hit us yet really,” Colleen said. “It will be kind of weird when we say, ‘Where is the book sale?’”