A book lover’s dream

Maui Friends of the Library bookstores are the best friend of every adult and keiki who love to read

Original Puunene store behind the sugar mill in Kahului -- The Maui News / CATHERINE KENAR photo

Imagine, if you will, devising a business plan, which includes not paying staff, selling your inventory for markedly less than retail price and even giving much of the inventory away for free — how long would that business be open? Believe it or not, that “plan” has worked to remarkable success for the Maui Friends of the Library.

The Maui Library Association (precursor of MFOL) began in 1912 to establish a public library for Maui. That library was opened to the public, but required annual dues of $2 or $4, which allowed members to borrow one or two books at a time, according to its history found on the MFOL website, www.mfol.org.

Since the organization began its work in 1957 as the Friends of the Maui County Free Library, MFOL (the Free was subsequently dropped) has sold donated used books as a principal source of funds, originally from tables set up adjacent to Ah Fook’s supermarket at the Kahului Shopping Center.

“I remember the Saturday morning book sales at the Kahului Shopping Center during the ’70s. It was fun going through the tables and opening a book to see what it held,” reminisced Makawao Public Library Library Technician V Sheri Akuna.

In 1990, Herman and Joyce Adalist arranged for the store to move to its present day location in an unused building behind the old school in Puunene — it was the boys’ bathroom. MFOL sold its books for 10 cents a book. And that’s the way things went for the next 22 years — then things really started to change.

MFOL board President John Tryggstad (from left), Library Liaison Sharon Woodall and board member Sara Foley inside the Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center store. -- The Maui News / CATHERINE KENAR photo

Jo Ann Carroll, current manager at the Lahaina Wharf Center branch of the MFOL bookstore, decided to close her independent bookstore, Old Lahaina Book Emporium. Longtime book lovers and collectors Machele and Tom Stabler bought up Carroll’s entire inventory. After setting aside the books they wanted, the Stablers donated thousands of the remaining books to MFOL. After securing Carroll’s agreement to manage another store, Machele convinced the Friends to open a used book store in Lahaina. Two months later, MFOL was moving into a storefront at the Wharf Cinema Center.

“It takes a certain ‘feel’ to run a bookstore,” explained Carroll. “Some you can walk into and immediately know, ‘There’s a treasure waiting for me.’ “

At about the same time, Machele also thought it was a good idea to open a store in Queen Ka’ahumanu Center; the Borders Books store had closed and people missed having a bookstore in the mall. Many of the Friends’ board members were hesitant to take on another store opening — especially one more than three times the size of each of the other two.

“We would have to come up with 400 cases of books and find 18 volunteers to fill 3,200 square feet of retail space,” marveled John Tryggestad, volunteer for 10 years, current MFOL board president. “I brought it to the board who voted seven to six to go for it.”

“I was on the wrong side of the decision,” admitted Sara Foley, volunteer for 8 years and MFOL board member from Maui’s west side. “We were very worried about finding enough volunteers, but it was a great decision. It was the right thing to do. The timing was perfect.”

Kady Tanaka (left) and T. Lay shelve books at QKC store. -- The Maui News / CATHERINE KENAR photo

As Foley explained, MFOL had just opened the Wharf Center branch and the Lahaina Public Library renovation was still ongoing. The board members who voted against taking a chance on the QKC store were worried about finding the resources and volunteers to staff three stores.

“We went from a 10 cent bookstore (the Puunene branch) doing about $6,000 a year, to now doing in excess of $250,000 a year,” Tryggestad proudly explains. “A few customers complained when we raised the prices from 10 cents to 25 cents (at Puunene), but we reminded them, ‘Our name is Friends of the Library; we’re trying to raise money for the libraries.’ “

And raise money they do. The library’s collection relies heavily on a special fund from the Hawaii State Public Library System, which are the fines and fees that are paid. In recent years, the revenue has decreased and so has the budget available for supporting the collection. MFOL is there to fill that hole.

“The Maui Friends of the Library are one of the most passionate friends groups I have ever met,” enthused Hawaii State Librarian Stacey Aldrich. “They are not only advocates for our public libraries, but (they) work tirelessly raising money through three bookstores to support them! We have an amazing Holoholo mobile library to extend our services because of this amazing group. Our libraries on Maui are better because of them, and I am grateful to each and everyone one of them.”

Aldrich’s sentiments are echoed by Maui County’s librarians. Two beneficiaries of the generous support of MFOL are Holoholo Bookmobile Librarian Jessica Gleason and Kihei Public Library Branch Manager Tracy Latimer.

Storefront of the store at Queen Ka‘ahumanu Center in Kahului -- The Maui News / CATHERINE KENAR photo

Gleason had been the Kihei branch manager before being entrusted with the brand new $300,000 bookmobile, which was paid in full with proceeds from the sale of used books, CDs and DVDs that would have otherwise ended up in the Central Maui Landfill.

“The Maui Friends of the Library are an invaluable source of advocacy and financial support for Maui County public libraries,” Gleason acknowledged. “The revenue generated from their used bookstores, sales tables in libraries and book sales in the community funds new library materials, magazine and newspaper subscriptions, furniture, supplies and programs. . . . Most recently, MFOL has funded much needed upgrading and renovation of library spaces.”

Besides the well-publicized renovation to the Lahaina Public Library, the Friends recently approved $16,500 to supplement the $8,500 grant Wailuku Public Library’s Children’s Librarian Tammy Ching received in order to update the children’s section.

Another example of MFOL’s generosity can be found in the Kihei Public Library. Installed in December, 2016, visitors will find beautiful stained-glass panels dedicated in memory of library supporters Mary Helen Ivey and Kay A. and K.C. Edwards. The $12,000 project cost was split between MFOL and Ivey.

Artist Anna Gerrodette Honda created the panels, titled “Ho’okupu,” which depict Hawaiian fishermen, an outrigger canoe and other ocean images including whales, a shark, rays, honu (green sea turtles), monk seals and a variety of shallow and deeper water fish.

Exterior of MFOL’s store at the Wharf Cinema Center in Lahaina, across from the Banyan Tree -- The Maui News / CATHERINE KENAR photo

“Their support has been invaluable to Maui County libraries,” admitted Kihei’s Latimer. “The libraries’ budget has been shrinking the last several years, and MFOL has really stepped up to help fill in the gap. They provide us with funding for programs and books we would otherwise not be able to afford.”

Additionally, MFOL helps the libraries with anything they want that the state cannot or will not fund.

“If the library wants it, we don’t decline their requests,” offered Foley.

“If we do decline it, generally we say ‘No, get something better. You’re thinking for the next couple of years. Get something that’s going to last 15 years. Think bigger,’ “ added Ed Heller, MFOL board member and computer guru who can be found at the Puunene store. Heller has been volunteering for about 15 years and maintains the website.

If you haven’t been to the Puunene store in a while, you’d not recognize it. Grass is now planted in front, helping to keep the dust and dirt down, and the inside of the store is very neat and organized. Fans, installed by Heller, keep the air circulating, and new lighting makes browsing through the merchandise much easier.

Board member Ed Heller can often be found at the Puunene store. -- The Maui News / CATHERINE KENAR photo

Teachers and anyone with young children take note: the Puunene store gives free books to kids aged 12 and younger and gives free books to teachers and home-schoolers to be used in their classrooms.

“It’s technically 25 books per day for teachers, but I’ve helped some carry 25 boxes to their car when they’re trying to set up a classroom library,” laughed Heller. “We just want to get books to the kids.”

Heller pointed out a pressing concern for MFOL. Fifteen years ago, when he joined, he was the youngest person volunteering. He is pretty sure he is still the youngest permanent volunteer and he is in his mid-50s.

“It is fun. You meet interesting people. Plus, you get to see the books first and pick out the ones you want,” chuckled Heller.

He admitted, as did nearly everyone interviewed, the hardest part for MFOL is getting volunteers. With three stores to man, running two to three shifts a day, MFOL needs 80-plus volunteers that can be counted on each week. Because no one is paid, there can be a lack of accountability from some who think they want to work in the stores.

“I ask people why they want to work in a bookstore. I get responses like, ‘Well, I just want to kick back and relax.’ I tell them, ‘Then you’re not going to work here. It takes muscles and dedication to run a bookstore,’ “ said Carroll, shaking her head.

Noteworthy to students interested in becoming a librarian — the Friends offers scholarships to students who live in Maui County who are studying for an advanced degree in Library and Information Science at University of Hawaii.

The Friends are currently buzzing with excitement about an upcoming event on Saturday, Sept. 8. MFOL and QKC Store Manager Cyndi Rogers have planned a celebration marking the sixth anniversary of the Friend’s largest store as well as the two-year anniversary of the Holoholo Bookmobile.

Festivities are planned throughout the day in the store including a performance by perennial favorite Uncle Wayne and the Howling Dog Band. The bookmobile will be on hand for the celebration, and will be parked in the shopping center parking lot fronting Kaahumanu Ave. near Sears and Fernando’s Mexican Grill.

“We are extremely fortunate to have the support of the Maui Friends of the Library,” affirmed Laurie Barker-Perez, branch manager of Makawao Public Library. “Through their hard work, the Friends provide financial support for many of the programs we offer free-of-charge to the public, supplement the book budget we get from the state and purchase needed items, such as chairs for our children’s room. They are true friends!”

With its lean operating budget — no one earns a cent with the exception of an accountant — the Friends, which is a 501(c)(3) organization, has succeeded where many used bookstores have failed. No overhead means everything that people purchase from the stores and book sale tables located at library branches and businesses around town, goes directly back to helping Maui County libraries.

“It’s kinda cool this organization we have,” stated Tryggestad proudly.

For more information about MFOL or to look into volunteering, stop in at one of the three stores or visit www.mfol.org.

* Catherine Kenar can be reached at ckenar@maui news.com.


MFOL warehouse sale


8 a.m. to 2 p.m.

at Puunene warehouse behind the old sugar mill, follow the signage

All books and CDs will be 10 for $1 FREE books for home schooling and for teachers to use in their classrooms


Mission Statement:

The objects and purposes of the corporation shall be to assist in maintaining the Maui County Free Library as a free public library . . . to promote the extension of library services throughout the County of Maui . . .


MFOL store information

Puunene Bookstore:

Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday


Lahaina Bookstore:

Hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday


Queen Ka’ahumanu Bookstore

Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday; 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday


A friendly reminder that MFOL stores do not accept checks or credit cards for payment. -- The Maui News / CATHERINE KENAR photo

Maui Friends of the Library were instrumental in obtaining the stained glass panels on display at the Kihei Public Library. -- The Maui News / CATHERINE KENAR photo

A preschool class from Aloha Kai Academy in Makawao hold close their new library books after they paid a visit to the Holoholo Bookmobile, paid for entirely by MFOL. -- Photo courtesy Maui Friends of the Library

Helpful signage directs you to the bookstore at the Wharf Cinema Center. -- The Maui News / CATHERINE KENAR photo


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