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In fundraising capital, a purpose-driven bookstore

Published: February 3, 2012
Section: Featured


BOCA RATON, Fla. – Palm trees line the streets of wealth here but at the edge of a nondescript strip mall is a bookstore bearing Brandeis University’s name. Visitors won’t find typical Boca shopping of $5 Starbucks lattes or Elizabeth Arden pocketbooks. Instead, hidden in this Jewish retirement capital, John Grishams, Clinton biographies and Shakespeare plays surprise with their discounted $1 price tag.

The facade could easily mislead. Now, more than 15 years old, the used bookstore has made a real contribution recently, raising an average of $25,000 per year for the university. Brandeis Books might be 1,200 miles south of Waltham, but volunteers who pick up the phone answer with a simple, “Brandeis.”

“What we do is to make sure that we can keep our end up and send enough to Brandeis to make it worthwhile,” organizer Molly Seiden said. Seiden has led the store for the last 12 years and speaks of an obligation to ensure the store survives in an age of Kindles and iPads.

“It matters not … whether Brandeis thanks us or doesn’t. We’re there to make sure the bookstore continues,” Seiden said.

“They are extremely dedicated,” Brandeis National Committee Executive Director Janice Fineman said. “It provides a community service and a place to meet. … It is a wonderful way for the group to support Brandeis.”

Fineman explained that Brandeis Books is a remnant of a series of book fairs that Brandeis National Committee chapters across the country once held as their primary fundraising events. “Over the years, this has dwindled, mainly because of the amount of work that it takes.”

But here in Florida, as well as in Tucson, Ariz., and Corpus Christi, Texas, the tradition has continued. In Corpus Christi, the chapter holds an annual sale in a local mall, while in Tucson and Boca Raton, Brandeis Books has a permanent presence.

The options here in the Boca store are certainly overwhelming. Volumes upon volumes of books line the shelves from floor to ceiling, with more piled into boxes. Every genre is represented, especially Judaica.

All books are donated. “It is an eclectic selection,” Seiden said. “You could go through there once and not even see half the books we have.

“We have some dreck, but that’s normal because some people want to read dreck.”

As is the case with many members of the BNC here, the volunteers are overwhelmingly women who never attended Brandeis, some having never set foot on campus. Many are of an age that they never had the opportunity to attend college.

“The ladies work hard,” Seiden said. “When you do volunteer, you have a responsibility—you must show up, you must know what’s in the store. … It is difficult [to find volunteers] but it is not doom and gloom.”

Donations to the store determine the success of sales. When one BNC member donated a collection of books three months ago, the store was able to capitalize on the gift and sell $1,000 worth of books per day.

“If their parents live here, tell students to ask them to donate their books,” Seiden said. “Just not Nora Roberts, I beg of you.”