With used books, CDs and DVDs on sale for $1 to $4, the new pop-up store in NoMa is a good deal. It might be an even better one for the D.C. students it benefits.
Carpe Librum (“seize the book” in Latin) is at 140 M St. NE, a few steps from the NoMa-Gallaudet University Metro station. The shop opened in May and will be gone by the end of August. But Turning the Page, which runs the pop-up, will continue to offer enrichment programs for children and parents in some of the city’s least affluent neighborhoods.
“We engage parents to become more active participants in their children’s education,” said Jason King, president of Turning the Page. King co-founded the organization in 1998 and has worked for it full time since 2000.
“We are there helping parents build home libraries, developing strategies on reading at home with their children, creating stronger teacher-parent relationships,” he explained.
The group also sponsors trips to local museums and universities, King noted. “What we really do is create and expand social capital. So the information is shared across school communities. We develop and train parent leaders to start projects in their communities.”
Turning the Page’s first project was to raise money to buy materials for a D.C. school library, and many of its activities still directly involve books.
“We have author visits where renowned children’s book authors and illustrators come and visit the families in the schools,” said Development Manager Robin Crowell. “Not just share their books, which the families actually get to take home, but really talk with the parents about how they came to be authors and what challenges and inspirations they have in their writing. We really think that gives a stronger connection to the book if you talk to the person who wrote the book, and then you get to take the book home and share it with your child.”
“At the end of a year,” King added, “if a family participates, [they] will have between 30 and 50 new books for their home library.”
Turning the Page also encourages students to master math and science, he said.
“It’s the full education spectrum,” King said. “Helping parents become stronger educators around every topic that may be in a school.”
The organization has a local staff of 11, including six members of AmeriCorps VISTA, a national organization that works to combat poverty. Turning the Page is about to open an office in Chicago, its second city.
To fund its activities, the group began one-day sales of donated books in 2001 in the parking lot of Politics & Prose, a large independent bookstore in Northwest. A Carpe Librum at 1030 17th St. NW became a near-permanent location in 2013; the space’s owner, the Lenkin Co., asked the group to keep the store open until the building is ready for renovation. That gives them the use of the 17th Street spot for “at least another couple years,” King said.
The M Street location, found with the help of NoMa’s Business Improvement District, is owned by Bozzuto, a real estate development and construction company based in Greenbelt.
Organizers of other nonprofit groups were skeptical that peddling used books would be worth the effort, King said. But Turning the Page covers 35 percent of its roughly $600,000 annual budget with book, CD and DVD sales. The items are sold online as well as in the stores.
“A lot of folks think, ‘Those books aren’t worth anything,’ ” King said. “But the answer is, ‘Yeah, they do have value.’ ”
Even in the age of e-readers, King said, the Washington market remains a good one for books. “People are still reading a ton in our area. Everyone still likes to read books, and e-books can be more expensive than used books. And we have fantastic prices.”
“General fiction is really our biggest seller. But we have a great kids’ section, too,” Crowell said. “History is a big one as well.”
About 10 percent of donated books arrive directly at the Carpe Librum shops, which is one advantage to having storefront pop-ups. Another benefit, Crowell said, is that the stores are places where “you can learn more about Turning the Page.”
“It’s unusual for a small nonprofit to have a storefront where we can talk to the public about what we do,” she said. “It’s great that something the public likes — cheap good books — can lead into the good work that we’re able to do because of them, the customer.”
Jenkins is a freelance writer.