In the ten years that Wade Lillywhite has volunteered with Friends of the Library, he's found signed first editions, met romance authors and helped little kids hunting for their first chapter book.
Once the pandemic closed down libraries, the little nonprofit bookstore he manages in Irvine closed down too. The regulars stayed home, and used books stopped arriving.
Every book on the shelves had to go, the county public library folks told him. A parking lot fire sale in November cleared out most of the stock at $3 a bag.
But as life returns to normal, Friends of the Library, located at 14361 Yale Ave., in Irvine, is poised to return July 6. The only problem: no used books.
When the stock was all gone, Lillywhite issued a rallying cry for fresh donations. The community responded, flooding the store with books.
And once the books return, so will the regulars and library visitors who notice the little room across the bathrooms.
One regular is Marie Fareralla, a chatty romance novelist who has penned more than 300 titles with such steamy titles as 1984's "Silhouette of Desire" and Colton's Mustang Valley series.
"She comes in all the time, and she's always dressed to the hilt," Lillywhite said. "She looks great."
Sometimes she brings boxes of her books to donate in an assortment of languages. Alongside her paperbacks, browsers are sure to find in abundance the classics and anything else commonly found in the classroom. Popular titles and bestsellers make frequent appearances. But Lillywhite said the cooking section stands apart. Everything from Armenian to Jewish cooking. The store once had a signed copy of Julia Child's "Joy Of Cooking."
The store has a quick enough turnover that some regulars come by a few times a week.
Libraries have been up and running for months, but the little bookstores that often come with them have not. While each is run independently of the others, many will reopen in the coming days. Books there are cheap, sometimes just 25 cents. Hardbacks often go for $1, or sometimes more if it's a popular or rare book.
Lillywhite has an eye for rare books, having spent 40 years as an antiquarian and rare book dealer. He still occasionally consults for universities and can spot an out-of-place book in the shuffle of heavily marked-up home-library castoffs — whether it's a set of leatherbound volumes containing the memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant or a box of signed first editions from a noted science fiction author.
All draw the cast of characters Lillywhite has come to know.
"Book people tend to be interesting people anyway, ranging from the social outcasts to the eccentric savant kind of person and everyone in between," he said.
Lillywhite wound up there partly by accident. He was one of those regulars, once. Then somehow, he became a volunteer a few hours a week. Then one day, he was browsing the shelves, and the manager pulled him aside:
"We had a board meeting last night and voted to make you the new manager."
"Wait a minute. I didn't apply for this job?"
But they knew Lillywhite would do it, and so far, he's been happy with his 10 years of service. Now retired, six hours a week is a doable workload. But lately, he's spent 25 hours a week getting the store back and ready to go for customers. With lots of fresh books on the shelves, the regulars will be back, chatting up staff and dropping off well-used books for new readers to snap up.
This time, the hours will be different.
The new hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday then 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday and Saturday.