It’s the highlight of the summer for book lovers like yours truly—a whole mall with tables and tables filled with books priced from 50 cents to $8, alphabetized by author in various categories, from biography to romance to children’s books to cookbooks. And it’s happening this weekend, August 10th–11th—the Really Good, Really Big, Really Cheap Book Sale.

    What used to be the McAlister Square Mall now contains University Center of Greenville, Public Education Partners, and several other education- and employment-focused entities, including the Greenville Literacy Association, who runs the sale to help fund its operations in Greenville County.

    With a staff of 11 and an army of 300 volunteers, the GLA serves about 1,000 people every year, with GED and ESL classes, career counseling, and other assistance—and tucked away behind the offices and classrooms are storage rooms full of boxes of donated books that are collected throughout the year, sorted and boxed with impressive efficiency by volunteers to be pulled out in the days before the sale.

    The event begins with a preview party on Friday night, with food, wine, and a jazz trio—and a chance to have first dibs on the books for sale. Tickets are $40 for an individual or $70 for a couple, and they’re on sale online through tonight, but you can purchase a ticket at the door on Friday, too.

    The sale officially opens on Saturday morning at 8:30, but book buyers eager to beat the rush can pay $10 at the door at 7:30 to have an extra hour of shopping. Free admission goes from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and on Sunday, from 1:00 to 4:00 p.m., it’s $10 for whatever you can put in a bag.

    If you’ve never been, it’s helpful to have a map of the sale, so you can go right to the books you want. If you come in the center entrance to the mall, the wing on the left is nonfiction and on the right is fiction; straight ahead of you, past the center island, is children’s and miscellaneous. But within those general categories, there are several subcategories: Christian fiction, romance, westerns, sci-fi, and general fiction in the right-hand wing, and history, social science, biography & memoir, cookbooks, sports, and more on the left. “Miscellaneous” includes classics, philosophy, drama, and short stories. The children’s section includes YA, middle readers, puzzle/activity books, and picture books.

    You’ll want to bring a large tote bag with you if you’re planning to really do some shopping. More experienced shoppers—teachers, homeschool moms, and serious readers—bring rolling carts and boxes to maximize the haul.

    The Really Good, Really Big, Really Cheap Book Sale: By the Numbers

    • The sale is in its 18th year.
    • It takes more than 300 volunteers to make it all happen.
    • Last year, the estimated attendance was 11,000 people (based on an algorithm involving a count of receipts).
    • Last year’s sales totaled $112,000.
    • The preview party usually draws about 400 people.
    • The previous record for number of books at the sale was 148,000 two years ago. This year the goal was to collect 150,000—and they ended up with 156,000!
    • The children’s books section is bigger than ever this year—it’s usually around 45,000, and this year it’s 66,000. And all children’s books are 2 for $1!
    • When it’s all over after the Sunday clearance sale, only about 20,000 books are left, so the collection process pretty much starts from scratch each year.
    • 100% of the books are donated, and the sale is volunteer-run, so the money goes directly to programming to promote literacy in Greenville County.


    By Sharon Purvis