Schenectady

Whitney Book Corner settling in at new, bigger location about a block away in Schenectady

Charlene Roman, manager of the Whitney Book Corner, stands at their new location at  Clinton and Liberty streets in Schenectady.
PHOTOGRAPHER:

Charlene Roman, manager of the Whitney Book Corner, stands at their new location at  Clinton and Liberty streets in Schenectady.

SCHENECTADY For people whose love of reading includes browsing through stacks of books — and isn’t that just about everybody in that group — there’s nothing like a used book store.

At the Whitney Book Corner in downtown Schenectady, bibliophiles have been enjoying themselves discovering old classics as well as some recent popular works for 20 years now, and that experience is going to get even better. On Tuesday, May 10, at noon, the Whitney Book Corner will celebrate its 20 years in business but in a new location; the old Labor Temple building at the southeast corner of Clinton and Liberty streets.

“It’s definitely a beautiful new spot,” said Charlene Roman, president of the Friends of the Library, the group that oversees the book store. “We’ll get a lot more foot traffic in the new spot, and we have big windows from the floor to the ceiling. We’ll be able to look out and see City Hall and the Post Office.”

The Whitney, which opened up a second store at the Viaport Mall in Rotterdam back in 2019, was originally located at the corner of Union Street and Clinton on the other side of the main library. This new store, also on a corner, will be able to house even more books than the Union Street shop.

“We have a bigger stock room, and will also have a larger children’s room,” said Roman. “It’s a lot roomier, and we’ll also benefit from being right next to the Green Market on Sundays.”

The Friends of the Library have been around since 1966 when the old Carnegie Library was still being used at the corner of Seward and Union streets. Soon after forming, the Friends began holding Monday book reviews at the old YMCA in downtown Schenectady while the new facility was being built. It has continued to organize programs in the new library’s McChesney Room for more than a half century now, and also runs the library’s bi-annual used book sale.

While the first used book sale back in 1973 was an instant hit, the Friends group always wanted a brick-and-mortar home to call its own and to sell books at anytime during the year. It was a dream of long-time library volunteer and Friends member Patricia Whitney, who died in 1999. Three years after her passing and in large part due to a generous bequest left to the Friends in her will, the Whitney Book Corner became a reality.

“A book store is a real natural for readers because they like to come in and browse,” Simon Weinstein, president of the Friends Group, told the Gazette in May of 2002 when the Whitney first opened. “You can’t do that at the sales. They tend to be chaotic.”

Finding new home

The new location for the Whitney at the corner of Clinton and Liberty, right behind City Hall, was forced when the owner of the old location on Union and Clinton sold the building.

“We rent, and when they put the building up for sale we had to find a new home,” said Roman.

“But it’s turned out very well. Metroplex and Ray Gillen helped us find this place. We really couldn’t have done it without Metroplex.”

And when Roman was experiencing a few health issues during the move, there was a strong enough nucleus in the Friends group to keep things going.

“This all happened right as I was getting sick, but because the Friends is such a wonderful group, with fabulous volunteers, we got it done,” said Roman, who moved to the Schenectady area from Connecticut in 2005 and had worked for Barnes & Noble and Walden book stores. “What an organization. I couldn’t have done it without their help. They have been amazing.”

Invaluable

Karen Bradley, who retired from her job as director of the Schenectady County Public Library this weekend, said the Friends group has always been an invaluable part of the library community.

“So much of what we provide to the community is because of the Friends,” said Bradley. “Much of what we offer the public, our programs for adults and children at all nine of our locations, comes directly from the Friends. Without their funding and support we wouldn’t be able to do much of what we do. The Friends allow us to fulfill our mission, culturally, recreationally and educationally.”

Along with helping patrons enjoy their library experience, the Friends also provide support for the library staff.

“We have a variety of people on our staff with different degrees, and keeping up with state requirements and certification, helping our staff development, is another big area in which the Friends help,” said Bradley. “Our program librarian Julie Dahle, who was new to the position this past fall, was able to attend the Public Library Association Conference in Seattle in the fall, and that was directly due to us sitting down with the Friends group and going over our budget with them. Being able to attend conferences like that is a great help to any library system.”

Bradley added that in the very near future, maybe even later this spring, the Friends of the Library will have a couple of more enthusiastic volunteers.

“My husband and I look forward very much to volunteering with the Friends,” said Bradley. “We’re hoping we can volunteer every Thursday night at the Whitney. We’re thrilled about it.”

Christine Witkowski has spent plenty of time with the Friends group since she joined back in 2007 after getting involved in the “One County, One Book” program.

‘Like a party’

“I have absolutely loved working at the Whitney and especially enjoy seeing young families poring over the wonderful selection of children’s books,” she said. “Our low prices ensure that everyone, no matter what their financial circumstances are, can obtain quality books.”

And Thursday nights, she says, can be pretty busy, but in a good way.

“The most fun I’ve had working there was when my husband Bernie and I worked the first Thursday nights at the store,” she said. “We ran a half-price sale and we had a loyal following. It was like a party on those nights. People were positively gleeful about being able to stock up on books for a bargain.”

While it was Patricia Whitney and then her sister Leah Leonard who played huge roles in making the book store a reality, it was former county historian Ed Reilly who found the location.

Reilly, who passed away in 2018 was also a former town supervisor of Niskayuna and a past president of the Schenectady County Historical Society. During the winter of 2002, while driving down Union Street, Reilly and his wife, Jean, noticed that the building at 600 Union St., formerly an antiques shop, and just a few feet from the library parking lot, was vacant.

Reilly hurried home, found the owner of the building on the internet and immediately called to see if he was looking for a new tenant. He was, and just a few months later the Whitney Book Corner was opening its doors for the first time.

More: Life & Arts | Everything Schenectady

Categories: Art, Life and Arts, Schenectady

1 Comments
DAVID GIACALONE May 1, 2022
| |

  Where are Whitney Book store patrons expected to park? The City removed a line of parking spaces along that building on Liberty Street from public use by making them Charging Station Only spaces. Will Whitney patrons be expected to pay Passport Parking rates to use the book store? Will they be invited to use the Main Library parking lot for free parking?