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For the love of books

“Books should go where they will be most appreciated, and not sit unread, gathering dust on a forgotten shelf, don't you agree?” – Christopher Paolini

Donations are unpredictable by nature. Sometimes they come in waves.

“This month we had an unusually large number of cookbooks donated,” said Caron Cooper, the Community Closet’s founder and CEO.

Within days, the cookbooks were overflowing their designated space in the thrift store’s large book section. After all, there’s only so much room and cookbooks are just a fraction of the book inventory.

So Cooper, in typical fashion, thought about who else might benefit from cookbooks. She then filled two big boxes with recipe books of all shapes and sizes and took them to the Livingston Food Resource Center.

“We print out recipes and put them on the shelves, but these will be great, especially when we have lentils and other “strange” ingredients that many people aren’t sure how to cook," said Michael McCormick, the Livingston Food Resource Center executive director.

Cooper said she took special care to pass along cookbooks for one-pot meals such as stews and casseroles, and those with pictures. “People need to be inspired and see photos of what it’s supposed to look like.”

Plus, home-cooking is always healthier and cheaper than eating out, said McCormick, who has run the center since 2009. “We always encourage people to cook at home.” He’s planned a home-cooking class for low-income parents and families this year, and the cookbooks will help there, too, he said.


“You can't buy happiness, but you can buy books, and that's pretty much the same thing”

– Anonymous

The plethora of gently used books donated to the Community Closet says something about this community: We read. And we read many different kinds of books.

“It’s everything – it’s just a mishmash,” said Laurie Gerhardt, a sign-language interpreter who has volunteered to organize the books every Sunday afternoon for years. “I think what I like about doing this is that I look at everything, including books I wouldn’t normally look at.”

The store has thousands of titles – from classic literature to spy thrillers, memoirs, biographies, literary fiction and Louis L’Amour westerns. Books on history, politics, the environment and religion vie for space with books about pets, psychology, gardening, home decorating and travel.Want to learn how to knit? Speak French? Start a business? Learn to read Tarot cards? It’s all here.

Local authors’ works are on the shelves as well – Ivan Doig, Tom McGuane, Jim Harrison, Jamie Harrison, William Hjortsberg, Peter Bowen, Tim Cahill and Walter Kirn, to name a few. Many of these writers donate books to the Community Closet and shop here, too.

It makes for an eclectic mix – kind of like Livingston itself.

The prices are low. At just 50 cents for a paperback and 75 cents for a hardcover, most everyone can afford to buy the book that suits their fancy.

“I use it as a kind of lending library, buying a book that catches my eye and then returning it after I’ve read it,” Gerhardt said. “At that price, why not? Plus, there’s no ‘due date,’ so there’s no rush.”

Gerhardt’s not the only one who re-donates her books back to the store.

“Although the prices are low,” Cooper said, “the book section yields big profits to the store because of the volume we sell. I’d say at least half our books are donated back to the store by our regular readers. It’s a great business model – we get to sell the same inventory several times.”

Profits matter here because the money the store brings in is, in turn, passed on to the community.

The Community Closet reinvests its profits (and merchandise, such as the cookbooks) in local nonprofit organizations and activities. Since it opened in 2005, it has given more than $300,000 to charitable activities in Park County and generated a local economic impact of $4 million.


“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” – Margaret Fuller

Depending on your age and stage, the best deals in the shop may well be over in the kids’ corner.

All children’s books are free. That includes picture books, chapter books, coloring books, workbooks – all of them.

Also free are parenting books – there is almost always one or more copies of What to Expect When You’re Expecting on the shelf – and young-adult/teen books.

“Deciding that children’s books would be free was the first thing we did because we didn’t want any barriers to literacy,” Cooper said.

Gerhardt said she particularly enjoys organizing the children’s books, where beautifully illustrated classic tales such as The Little Engine That Could, Madeline and Eloise are shelved beside Disney and Pixar movie-character books.

Teachers peruse this section, too, looking for books to add to their classroom libraries.

“I love Roald Dahl,” a Livingston middle-school teacher said recently as she reached for a copy of Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox. “When he died in 1990, my mom went out and bought me a copy of every book he had ever written. This one is a classic.”

Mixed in with Dahl’s young-adult books are the Twilight and Hunger Games titles, which generally don’t stay on the shelves for long, and relatively modern classics such as The Giver and Speak. There are even copies of local author Christopher Paolini’s Eragon in multiple foreign languages.


“We forget that the simple gesture of putting a book in someone's hands can change a life. I want to remind you that it can.” – Kate DiCamillo

The people who run the Community Closet are readers who know the value of a good book. [see breakout box Why Read?] To make sure others have the opportunity to share that experience, they go out of their way to make sure the books are in good shape, well-organized and affordable.

“Because our prices are so low – oftentimes you can even find books in the free bin – I do feel like we are really able to help the entire community with literacy,” Cooper said.

Furthermore, there is no judgment regarding what people pick up and take home.

For example, Cooper said, “We found that there are a number of adults looking for young-adult books, great stories that are a little easier to read. Here they can come in, look through what’s on the shelves.

“It makes me wonder,” she continued. “If you are not a reader, how comfortable are you going into a bookstore or a library, where the prices may be overwhelming, or you can’t find the right section? Giving people a place where there’s no judgment on what you’re reading – I have to believe that really helps.”

The assortment and sheer number of books on the shelves are remarkable for a community this size, she added. Whether you are reading for fun or self-improvement, inspiration or enlightenment, there’s a book at the Community Closet with your name on it.

“I’ve noticed that we have a much bigger book section than other thrift stores,” Cooper said. “I think it’s because our community values reading and is seeking to re-energize readers. There’s something different here.”

Lucky us.


Anyone interested in donating books -- or furniture, household goods and/or clothing – to the Community Closet can find donation guidelines and valuation forms at

Pick ups are available for larger pieces such as furniture and household goods.

All donations are tax deductible; just ask for a receipt.


The reasons to read are both endless and individual. The folks at narrowed it down to a Top 10 list. They say reading:

  1. Improves your vocabulary;

  2. Improves your concentration and attention span;

  3. Inspires interest in arts, music and the world (which also gets you out of the house);

  4. Improves your imagination by creating images of people and places in your head;

  5. Cheaper than taking a class to learn how things – and people – work;

  6. Makes you smarter (and more interesting) and improves academic achievement;

  7. Reduces stress by slowing the heart rate and easing muscle tension;

  8. Improves your memory by allowing you to pause and reflect;

  9. Discover yourself and develop life skills by experiencing the world through stories;

  10. And, last but not least, it is great entertainment.


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