She saved 200,000 books from the landfill and hopes to find them all a home

Standing in the middle of her towering piles of books, with barely enough space to move between them, Myriam Gaudet holds on to the belief that each one will find a new home.

Gaudet, who owns Red Cart Books in Cornwall, Ont., Now has a barn and two other farms on the same property full of donated hardcovers, paperbacks and coffee table books spanning every conceivable genre.

“If I do not take them, they go to the landfill. So I take them,” she said.

“I just wish we could hang on to them long enough until the right person comes and looks for them, because eventually – pretty much every book – someone will come and look for it.”

Myriam Gaudet stands among the shelves she installed when she first started collecting unwanted books from thrift stores. Her furniture has since jumped to fill two entire farmhouses and a large barn. (Alexander Behne / CBC)

After five years of collecting unwanted books from local thrift stores that would otherwise be dumped at the local landfill, Gaudet has collected nearly 200,000 titles.

But this wealth of literature raises some unique issues.

A small stack of books is placed on top of a mountain of boxes containing Gaudet’s weekly collections from seven thrift stores in the Cornwall area. (Alexander Behne / CBC)

The books are essentially in deep storage, inaccessible to customers and unsearchable by the bookstore’s three-person staff, as most of them are not cataloged. Gaudet is also close to maximizing the storage space she has available.

She predicts that within a few months she will run out of space in her family’s farm buildings and be forced to stop accepting new donations.

Stacks of books occupy every inch of free space in this farmhouse, which belongs to Gaudet’s family. She says she is grateful that she can use the farm buildings to house the books while formulating a long-term plan for her furniture. (Alexander Behne / CBC)

Books come from thrift stores

What Gaudet calls a “tsunami of books” flows in primarily from seven thrift stores in the Cornwall area. Often donated books can not be sold on time, and therefore they are taken off the shelves and disposed of at the local landfill.

Gaudet said she learned about the problem a few years ago when she ran the book department in a for-profit thrift store. More than three-quarters of the donated books were never sold.

The fictional section of the small Red Cart Books store on Pitt Street in the center of Cornwall. Gaudet hopes that one day her entire furniture will be available to the public. (Alexander Behne / CBC)

After leaving that job, she started Red Cart Books. For the first year, it was an online venture that primarily focused on selling a collection of about 4,000 books to a friend.

But things changed when a former colleague, who now works at another thrift store in the area, contacted Gaudet to see if she could take some of the store’s overflow books and thus divert them from the landfill.

Gaudet started looking past every week to collect unsold books. To begin with, the furniture that did not fit into her small storefront on Pitt Street, stored on neat rows of shelves, was set up in the Gaudet family’s farmhouse, alphabetized and cataloged.

Some of the books that Gaudet collected early on are neatly organized on the shelves of the family farmhouse. She says she has photographed a few thousand of them to be sold online. (Alexander Behne / CBC)

But then she started contacting other thrift stores to see if they had any books destined for the landfill that she could take from their hands.

A thrift store quickly turned into seven.

Too much of a good thing

Julie Leroux heads the Salvation Army’s thrift store in Cornwall. For the past three years, she says, the store has sold 300 to 700 books to Gaudet every week. She’s glad the books are not wasted.

“[Myriam’s] vision, her need for books … is as strong as ours, “she said.” We want to make sure everyone gets the chance to read. “

Julie Leroux, head of the Salvation Army Thrift Store in Cornwall, says books usually stay on the sales floor of her store for about four weeks. Those that do not sell after that time are wrapped up in Red Cart Books. (Alexander Behne / CBC)

These days, every time Gaudet makes her weekly rounds, she returns with more than 2,000 books, but now she has “nowhere to put them.”

In late December, she posted a post on her store’s Facebook page to search for a solution.

She has a preliminary plan to build a small warehouse building, but there are limits to what she can afford.

“No one gets rich by running a bookstore,” she said. “You do it because you love books.”

In one section of the barn, Gaudet has wrapped the books in clear plastic and garbage bags to shield them from the weather and wind. She regularly checks the books to make sure they remain in good condition. (Alexander Behne / CBC)

‘Value for every book’

Gaudet is nurtured by the desire to hold on to the books long enough for the right buyer to come along.

Monique Sauvé came to Red Cart Books and was looking for a guide to meditation that could help her use the healing space she had just created in her home.

She says it’s hard to find good books on the subject, though New Chakra Healing by Cyndi Dale – once destined for the landfill – sat on a shelf waiting for her.

“It’s nice to see them not being thrown out, because there’s value in every book,” Sauvé said.

Monique Sauvé visited Red Cart Books for the first time and found a guide to meditation, a genre she says is hard to find. (Alexander Behne / CBC)

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