Things are usually pretty quiet in downtown Leesburg on Sunday mornings, but last Sunday was an exception. It was moving day for Thyme Books.

Mike and Debbie Sharples, owners of the petite brick bookshop at 2 Loudoun St. SE, couldn't fit another book on their shelves. So they asked their customers to help them pack and move books to a new location across the street.

Customers began arriving about 10:30 a.m. to find the aisles crowded with boxes. "Just pick your favorite section and start putting them into boxes," Debbie Sharples said.

Molly Taylor, 7, headed for children's books. Cindy Stilley, of Round Hill, filled three boxes with drama books.

Pat Butler, who drove in from Berryville in Clarke County, began with cookbooks. "Why don't you just give me another box for things I'm taking home," she said.

"Hey, are you giving discounts on heavy books today?" yelled someone from the art section.

By 2:30, 15 more volunteers arrived to join the group of 10. Three pizzas and two dozen doughnuts had been consumed and 100 boxes moved to the new store. "I think we should be half moved by tonight," Debbie Sharples said.

The atmosphere was festive. Workers introduced themselves to those they bumped into. Some gave the books a loving pat before placing them in boxes.

"I'm a book obsessive," said Jeffrey Ball, 27, of Leesburg. "I'll be here all day. Any chance to look at books while I put them in boxes is something."

The Sharples bought the bookstore three years ago from the store's founder and owner of 11 years, Patsye Matthews.

Mike was a freelance writer and Debbie worked in education for many years in Newburyport, Mass., before they moved here. "We love books so, and I used to spend all my lunch hours in book stores anyway, so I figured I might as well own one," Mike Sharples said.

Researching and ordering books has been an unparalleled joy for the couple, but like all small bookstore owners, they have struggled. A year and a half ago, Crown Books came to Leesburg, and many feared Thyme books would not survive.

"They've hurt us on bestsellers and Christmas," Mike Sharples said.

But he added that business throughout the year has picked up. He said the new customers from eastern Loudoun and Reston he's seeing have made up the difference.

Mike Sharples, 51, tries to compete the way he always did -- by ordering one or two of a great variety of books, often from smaller presses and university presses.

Customers appreciate Thyme Books' willingness to order books, even though the store usually makes no money on such orders. Leesburg's Russell Baker, a New York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner, said that "being on the Pulitzer board, every January I'm given a big list of books I need in a hurry. Mike Sharples can get anything."

The bookstore seems to have won a fierce loyalty from many customers.

"I like local, sort of indigenous bookstores," said Steve Kambly, as he packed his favorite book sections: psychology and poetry. "Crown is like the 7-Eleven of bookstores. It's nice when people who work there are really part of the community."

Customers say they gladly pay 10 to 35 percent more for books at Thyme Books for many reasons. "They {the couple} have personality, it's warm," said Laura Dutton, who manages the Loudoun Museum. Dutton admits she's such a frequent customer that her paycheck goes "mostly from my office to Thyme Books and the wine store."

Dutton also told of befriending an adult who couldn't read. "Debbie helped me find workbooks and even loaned me things from her own collection. You'd never get that in a chain store."

The new store, at 1 Loudoun St. SW, opens tomorrow from 5 to 8 p.m. with a book signing by Baker. Mike Sharples said the new place, a two-story eight-room house, will still be a little topsy-turvy but open for business on Saturday.

It also will have a small parking lot, something rare in Leesburg, and a sitting room, fulfilling one of Debbie Sharples's dreams. "Won't it be nice to have a place where people can just come and sit and read and have a cup of coffee," she said.

She's also proud that there will be room to display publishers' catalogues. "There are so many neat books out there and we're so limited," she said. "Now people can look through for themselves and we can order unusual books for them."