The outdoor book swap that began with a reality TV show
In Sunnyside, the book swap on Skillman Ave and 43rd St is open 24/7
In 2014, Volker Detering bought 120 boxes of books from a contestant on the reality TV show Storage Wars, where unclaimed items in storage lockers are auctioned. The books were originally from an academic bookstore near Columbia University that had closed down. The books sat in Detering’s basement for another 6 years before the pandemic brought them to light.
Mid-pandemic, Detering, a fifty-year-old Sunnyside resident since 2009, struggled with the isolation. He didn’t know what to do for the first time in his life. “I realized I have two options — either I get clinically depressed or I do something meaningful,” he said.
One afternoon mid-2020, he brought three boxes of the books out to the park across from his house in an attempt to organize them. He sat out to enjoy the sun. It was quiet, the streets were empty, and the playground was closed due to the pandemic. He left some of the books out overnight. When he came back the next morning, the books were gone. Things snowballed from there.
“I did that again and the third day, also everything I left behind was gone.”
Then, people began to bring their own books too. “We ended up with so much material that I placed a panic call to my brother and said how many foldable tables do you have? I have two.”
Today, Detering’s book swap has 12 tables, 16 volunteers, and is open 24/7. He goes to the book swap everyday. Locals often play chess there, and he has even seen people on dates at the swap.
Over the years, the parks department and sanitation department had threatened to remove the swap three times, but Detering was able to rally the community against its removal.
“In the end it became this thing that cannot be removed. [Even] if I decided to stop doing this, it will still continue.” Detering said he has no intention of ending the book swap in the foreseeable future.
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