Last chapter of couple’s book-love story is being written in warehouse-clearing sale

Book bargain bonanza in Oakdale

Woman who with her late husband owned and operated The Book Center in Oakdale is emptying hundreds of thousands of books from warehouse. About 150,000 books need homes by the end of the year.
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Woman who with her late husband owned and operated The Book Center in Oakdale is emptying hundreds of thousands of books from warehouse. About 150,000 books need homes by the end of the year.

A few decades ago, Suzette Acaylar’s courtship with future husband Wayne Burton in Los Angeles often went like this: Hours spent visiting thrift stores, garage sales and bookstores. Then, when Sue could pull him away from his treasure hunt, something like a nice dinner out, or a visit to the Santa Monica Pier.

Shortly after they married, Oakdale resident Wayne took Sue — who came to the U.S. from the Philippines in the 1980s — on a two-month trip across the country. From New Mexico to Texas to Florida to Maine and back to California, their sightseeing included many more visits to sales and stores, with book shipments mailed home as boxes filled.

Those books fed the inventory of The Book Center in Oakdale, which the couple owned and operated together as a brick-and-mortar store from 1992-2005, then through online sales only for another decade or so.

The volumes became a big part of the story of the couple’s life together. Sue Burton came across one she remembered them getting in Santa Barbara. She got so mad at her husband because she was really hungry and he still was determined to go through two more rows in the store. “He said, ‘Just two more minutes.’ Then two minutes became 10, then 20, then 30,” she recalled with a smile.

Then Wayne got sick. Pancreatic and prostate cancer. He died more than a year ago.

In the time since, the hundreds of thousands of books stored in a rented warehouse on Hi Tech Parkway became too much for Sue, emotionally and financially. “When I first walked in, maybe a couple of months after he passed, I couldn’t do anything, all I could do was sit and cry and scream and yell. I was so overwhelmed, I didn’t know where to start.”

She and her adult son, Fred Acaylar, advertised far and wide to find a buyer for the whole inventory, without success. Then she tried shopping the books around personally — loading up her truck with 30-odd boxes and driving to Fremont, San Jose, Berkeley, San Francisco, “every bookstore I know.”

Shopkeepers would look at the books, offer a couple dollars here and there, and Sue would lug them back home. The money usually barely covered her gas.

She and Wayne occasionally had sidewalk sales at the warehouse, so when someone suggested she try to draw shoppers to her, she started advertising weekend book sales on the Facebook Marketplace. That’s when she learned she and Fred — who would come over on weekends to help — didn’t have to go it alone.

The sales began in mid-September, and Salida-area resident Rosanna Root, a home-schooling mother of five, began going in early October. With all books priced at $1 apiece, she was buying five or six bankers boxes each time she went.

One day, Rosanna was there seven hours and in all that time, there were maybe a half-dozen other customers. “I was heartbroken for her after talking with her and realizing she needed to get the word out more. I was driving home that day, crying and praying to the Lord on what I could do to help Sue.”

What she did was post on three Facebook home-schooling group pages that there was a great, ongoing sale that parents shouldn’t miss. The posts drew a great response the next day, a Sunday, which Sue initially had planned to be the last sale day, as she was supposed to be out of the warehouse by the end of October.

But buoyed by the turnout, Sue got an extension from her kind landlord through November, she said. She and Rosanna and another home-schooling mom, Danielle Laughlin, set up the Facebook group Sue B’s Book Sale, which has grown to more than 250 members. The women and a handful of other volunteers are helping Sue run the sales on weekends and occasional Fridays and Mondays. And Sue now has until the end of December to find homes for the books and vacate the warehouse.

In addition to her compassion for Sue’s bind, Rosanna said she helps because she feels “the burden of saving the books.”

“Our world and our children are overwhelmed with electronics,” she said. “There’s so much value in books, so much language and literature that can’t be found on electronics. It’s becoming a lost art.”

With the help from her new friends, Sue already has lightened her load of an estimated 300,000 books (she counted rows and stacks of boxed books and multiplied by the typical number of books in a box) to about half that.

And with word of the sales spreading and donations being made to groups including Friends of the Modesto Library and Discover Books, she’s hopeful that the books will have new homes by the new year. Friend of the Library Vice President Pat Glattke said her organization is “so grateful” to Sue for the opportunity to take books.

At the sales, Sue has enjoyed seeing kids reading books and hearing shoppers say things like, “I read this to my grandchildren” and “I read this when I was in grammar school.”

“It makes me feel better that for the longest time, I tried to sell the books and couldn’t, and all along there were locals who’d support me and are finding books they were looking for,” she said. “It’s fulfilling that books that started from Wayne’s private collection have become everybody’s books.”

The Sue B’s Book Sale warehouse is at 685 Hi Tech Parkway. Visit the sale’s Facebook page to keep up on sale days and times. Sales typically are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends.