"We call them the thundering herd," says library director Jody Ford, who claims that some die-hards arrive nearly an hour before the ribbon is cut for the 10AM charge to the Book Barn. "I was nearly run over the first year that I was librarian. I was standing in the center of the driveway, and all of a sudden the staff started screaming at me to get out of the way."
What's the allure? The barn and its neighboring tables contain as many as 9,000 used books at rock-bottom prices. Though volunteers hand-sort donated books, culling what former Book Barn chair Casey Kurtti has dubbed "the Tiffany items" for individual pricing, there's always the chance of finding the one that got away. Poet Mikhail Horowitz still gloats over finding a paperback hand-inscribed to Communion author Whitley Strieber from Beat writer William S. Burroughs. As he waited on line, Horowitz found a personal letter from Burroughs, whose autograph now fetches hundreds of dollars, tucked into its pages. "I'm literally breaking out in a cold sweat - I feel like I'm smuggling hashish through the Turkish border." The book's price? Fifty cents.
In 2003, the Stone Ridge Library introduced a more reliable way to find autographed books: its new local authors table offered over a hundred signed titles by 42 area writers, including novelists Laura Shaine Cunningham, Luc Sante, and Kim Wozencraft, screenwriters Ron Nyswaner and Zachary Sklar, children's author/illustrators Barbara Bash and Jon J. Muth, sportswriter Roger Kahn and Chicago composer John Kander. "All these people live here?" gushed one awestruck customer.
They do, and so do the artists, bakers, gardeners, musicians, face-painters, raffle donors, and hundreds of volunteers who make up a typical library fair. The 58th Stone Ridge Library Fair, on June 12, will kick off the trio of fairs that has graced Ulster County summers for decades. The most venerable is the Woodstock Library Fair, founded (under the name "country fair") in 1931, is set for July 31. New Paltz's Elting Memorial Library's fair runs a close second; the library will hold its 48th library fair on July 10 and 11.
All three fairs offer a lively blend of outdoor entertainment, arts and crafts, children's activities, raffles, old and new merchandise, food booths - and, of course, books. These beloved community events are also essential fundraisers for their respective libraries. Though the Stone Ridge Library recently became tax-supported, it still needs to raise over 20 percent of its annual budget on its own. "The library fair is the major fundraiser. We couldn't operate without it," says Jody Ford.
One month before Fair Day, the library's conjoined 1780 and 1810 stone houses are a hive of activity. There are piles of posters and volunteer sign-ups across from the circulation desk (one list says plaintively, "Anything!") The basement is crammed with used toys, Ford's tiny office with canvases for the Marbletown Arts Association's Baby Barn Gallery. In the warren of low-ceilinged attics, volunteers price donations for Empress Eleanore's Emporium (new and collectible gifts) and sort clothes for the popular rummage sale.
The overseer of these activities (and a staggering array of logistical details ranging from shuttle busses to Port-a-Potties and Bouncitty-Bounce rentals) this year is Barbara Cazakoff, a recent retiree from the New York Department of Labor. "She's one of the most organized people I've ever met in my life," marvels Ford.
Some of Cazakoff's innovations are a printed program with a site map and advertising space, and the introduction of local crafts vendors alongside traditional volunteer-run booths such as plants, bake sale, toys, and children's games. This year's silent auction will accept bids for a full week before Fair Day; raffle tickets are already on sale. Both feature an impressive assortment of goods and services donated by local businesses and library patrons.
The heart and soul of the Stone Ridge Library Fair is its huge corps of volunteers, many of whom have been at it for decades. "A whole generation of kids has grown up at the fair," says Ford, noting that the teens who run the hair-braiding booth used to be carried in Snuglis while their parents volunteered. But Cazakoff points out that some of her star volunteers are brand new to both fair and community. "We have people with expertise in marketing, retail sales, graphic arts. Everyone brings a creative twist. It's exciting to know that there's this much talent in the neighborhood."
There's an abundance of musical talent as well. Local recording artist Kurt Henry has booked a stellar lineup for the fair's stage; there will also be children's entertainers and a roving rummage fashion show. And the library desk will stay open during the event; fair patrons can check out books between courses of sausage and peppers and strawberry shortcake.