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How to Get the Most Out of This Weekend's VNSA Used Book Sale in Phoenix

The entrance to the VNSA Used Book Sale at the State Fairgrounds.
The entrance to the VNSA Used Book Sale at the State Fairgrounds. Douglas Markowitz

This weekend at the Arizona State Fairgrounds, the Volunteer Nonprofit Service Association will hold its annual used book sale. Over half a million volumes will be available at rock-bottom prices, with most of the books selling for less than $5.

On Saturday, February 12, and Sunday, February 13, you'll find thousands of volumes of classic literature, sci-fi and romance novels, western fiction, and more; beautiful volumes on art and photography; textbooks, manuals, cookbooks, how-to guides, and sheet music; tomes on philosophy, religion, science and technology, history, and travel; books in foreign languages including Spanish, French, and even Korean; children's books; CDs, DVDs, audiobooks, and vinyl records.

Things are a little different for 2022; due to COVID-19, shoppers won't be able to line up for the sale until midnight tonight (yes, some of them get in line midday Friday). Also, the volunteers who run the sale will be letting fewer people into the building at one time. Basically, you're going to have to wait longer this year.

But it's absolutely worth it. Not only do proceeds from the sale benefit local nonprofit organizations, but the VNSA Used Book Sale is one of the best events of the year for people who love hunting for treasure. But the size of the sale can be overwhelming, especially for people who are attending for the first time. That's why we've put together this brief guide on getting the most out of the book sale.

click to enlarge So many books, so little time... - DOUGLAS MARKOWITZ
So many books, so little time...
Douglas Markowitz



Know What You're Looking For

We cannot stress enough that there will be hundreds of thousands of books at the sale, and it's impossible to browse them all. So it helps to know what you want to find and where to find it, which is why VNSA will have paper maps available on the days of the sale. This makes it much easier to find that vintage Julia Child cookbook you've been craving, or that fancy exhibition catalog you neglected to pick up from the Phoenix Art Museum.

click to enlarge There's nothing like the classics. - DOUGLAS MARKOWITZ
There's nothing like the classics.
Douglas Markowitz



Come Prepared

You've filled your cart full of books. Now, how do you get them to your car? VNSA does provide boxes and bags for shoppers, but we strongly recommend bringing something sturdier like a backpack, tote, or even a duffel bag. Put another bag in that bag, because you'll probably need it. You may also want to bring water, some tissues, and even a snack. Leave the Sunday best at home as well: This is the fairgrounds, after all, and being in a warehouse full of old books tends to leave one a bit dusty. Lastly, know that while admission to the sale is free, the fairgrounds charges $10 for parking.

click to enlarge Books in French? C'est magnifique! - DOUGLAS MARKOWITZ
Books in French? C'est magnifique!
Douglas Markowitz

Patience Is a Virtue

It's easy to rack up a hefty bill at the sale. Sure, that hardcover first edition of Heart of Darkness is nice, but you can probably find a less expensive copy in the mass market paperback section. In any case, if you find something you like, make sure to grab it. If you do come across a cheaper copy, you can always chuck the more expensive one in the re-sort bins located all over the sale (and when we say "chuck," we mean "place carefully" — some of these books are fragile).

click to enlarge Travel to faraway planets from the comfort of your home. - DOUGLAS MARKOWITZ
Travel to faraway planets from the comfort of your home.
Douglas Markowitz

Know What You're Spending

The VNSA takes both cash and credit/debit cards, making it all too easy to blow a paycheck on books. If you're worried about making this month's rent, come in with a level head and a budget ceiling in mind. For true bargain hunters, everything is 50 percent off on Sunday, although waiting until then may mean sifting through Saturday's leftovers.


Speaking of which...

click to enlarge Books in French? C'est magnifique! - DOUGLAS MARKOWITZ
Books in French? C'est magnifique!
Douglas Markowitz

Get in Line ASAP

Okay, not exactly. But if you're serious about getting the best selection, or if you're looking for some stuff to flip on eBay, the sooner you get in line starting at midnight, the better. (We've been known to show up at 4 a.m., and there are already hundreds of people waiting.)

Bring a camp chair, a blanket, and some card games, and hang out with your fellow bookworms. You won't regret it.


VNSA Used Book Sale. 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday, February 12, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, February 13, at Arizona State Fairgrounds, 1826 West McDowell Road; 602-265-6805; vnsabooksale.org. Free admission.

Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2018 and has been updated.
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Jennifer Goldberg is the culture editor and Best of Phoenix editor for Phoenix New Times.