Hilltop Books is a project of the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library.
Located at 84 Bethlehem Pike, Hilltop Books opened its doors to a handful of invited shoppers on three weekends in February. Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library Board Member and Interim bookstore manager Laura Lucas stood behind a plexiglass anti-COVID shield and welcomed the patrons to Hilltop’s “soft launch”.
The store is a project of the Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library. Lucas led the efforts of other Board members and dozens of volunteers in organizing, shelving and ultimately selling the thousands of volumes donated in October 2020.
Customers must book appointments and follow the store's COVID protocols: masks, hand sanitizing, social distancing when browsing, and a preference for credit card payment instead of cash. Because Hilltop Books is not yet fully operational, Lucas asks, “Please be kind to all our Friends volunteers who are trying to figure this out.” Volunteers can sign up at https://chlibraryfriends.org. There is no required membership fee to join. Until further notice, the limited number of patrons will be drawn from the volunteer pool.
Hilltop Books occupies five rooms on the first floor of an 1870s building. The space has been completely rehabbed, with new lighting and varnished heart pine floors. The big sash windows flood the front room with natural light, lending a cheerful aspect to the entry and its floor-to-ceiling shelves of “general fiction”. The second room, the largest, features a carved, black marble fireplace and a view of the patio. It houses an astonishing assortment of non-fiction books.
In the hallway at the back of the non-fiction room, there is a wall of mystery and detective books. The hallway leads to the children’s book room, with hundreds of volumes, a play table and an assortment of games and blocks to occupy the kids.
At the back, next to the clean, spacious bathroom, is a bright chamber with windows on three sides that the Friends had intended as an office. But there were so many books that, when a generous donor gave the Friends seven decorative shelf units, they opted to put them in the office and fill them with more non-fiction, science fiction and other genres.
Curious readers will find hard-to-classify books at the back of the store.
Lucas estimates that about 7,000 books are on offer.
The enterprise is intended to achieve several objectives. Foremost, it raises money for the Free Library of Philadelphia Branch at 8711 Germantown Avenue. City funding is inadequate, never enough to keep the building in good repair, make technology upgrades and capital improvements, or develop programs. The Friends try to fill the gaps.
Hilltop Books is also meant to fill a shopping gap. Hillers can travel to the box stores at Chemical Road and wander in the corporate vastness of the Barnes and Noble, but that’s not as much fun as exploring the small rooms and jammed shelves of a store like Hilltop. During the course of preparing for the opening, the Board heard nothing but enthusiastic support for the idea. In a neighborhood where 40% of the adults hold post-graduate degrees, this is not surprising. People in Chestnut Hill love books. Hilltop is meant to give them their store.
And it is also meant as a kind of recycling center. Books accumulate. Libraries don’t have the staff to sort the thousands that can pile up on their doorsteps. Nor do they have the systems to lend donated books. The books in our homes are not trash – they have great value as sources of entertainment and knowledge. For many people, throwing out a book is anathema. The Friends of the Chestnut Hill Library believe you would like to recycle books so that their knowledge and entertainment value extends into the community. At the moment, says Lucas, “Donations are on hold until space is available on the shelves.” She hopes that the Friends will be able to accept donations on a regular basis, perhaps monthly, once Covid restrictions are lifted and the books are sold. If the February “soft opening” is any indication, the store will sell hundreds of books every week. The Friends will announce the donation drives through this newspaper and via social media.
The store will, eventually, develop an online presence to maximize the revenue potential with online sales for local pickup. In order to achieve that, significant volunteer resources will be required to digitize the inventory.
Having a permanent space allows the Friends to be innovative. “For example,” said Lucas, “Hilltop will feature a monthly ‘Family-night Game Rental’ club for $15 a month. Club members will rent two games or puzzles each week; eight different games per month. It should give folks fun options for what to do on weekends. We are trying to build up our game and puzzle inventory. If you have board games and puzzles to donate, please bring them to the store.”
The property is on the end of the row of tall white buildings around the corner from the Chestnut Hill East SEPTA station. There is a half-acre lot next to the store that will be levelled, paved and landscaped; once finished, the outside space will be used for the relaxation of customers and as a venue for reader clubs and fund-raising events. The work is scheduled to commence this Spring.
Once the COVID restrictions are lifted, the store will fully open. Chestnut Hill’s new normal, because of Hilltop Books, will be a bit better than the old normal.
Because of COVID restrictions, no more than seven patrons can be in the store along with three volunteer staff. Until further notice, the limited number of patrons will be drawn from the volunteer pool. There is no required membership fee to join.
Customers with appointments abide by the store's COVID protocols: hand sanitizing on entry and social distancing when browsing. Credit card payment is preferred over cash.