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She'd 'get out of sick bed' to sell books

Dottie Dalzell and Jinny Bell at Flat Rock Book Exchange. Dottie Dalzell and Jinny Bell at Flat Rock Book Exchange.

FLAT ROCK — Jinny Bell was horrified when a customer expressed surprise that the Flat Rock Book Exchange was open. The customer told her she heard it was going to close.

Heavens, no, Jinny Bell said.
And if someone thought the Flat Rock Book Exchange would ever close, well, then they don't know the volunteer spirit, love of books and agile physical labor that keep it going. One morning Bell was sprawled out on the floor, digging out books that had fallen behind a shelf. The volunteer who walked in and saw her was about to call an ambulance.
Oh, no, Bell said, I'm just retrieving books.
Asked how many books she reads herself, Bell answers quickly. "I would have no idea," she says. Then she does some quick math and comes up with an estimate. "I probably read about two books a week," she says. A retired English and music teacher from Charleston and Columbia, S.C., she likes historical fiction.
She has the exalted title of manager but demurs when she talks about the role.
"I'm just a cog in the wheel," she says. "I think my biggest important job is the trash, because I have to get that out on Tuesday."
The Book Exchange is in one of the oldest buildings in Flat Rock, the original post office. Built by the Rev. Peter Stradley in 1844-45, the building served as the post office for more than 120 years. It's owned by Historic Flat Rock Inc., which has an office upstairs. The Book Exchange is a downstairs tenant.
In 1980 a group of women from the Ladies Aid Society at St. John in the Wilderness Church dreamed up the idea of collecting books for free and selling them at a deep discount — and giving the money to charity. And even though books in print have competition from the Internet and other distractions, the Ladies Aid Society keeps peddling books that don't need batteries. It's not as if the work is that taxing.
"Mostly your job is to greet people and show them where the books are they're looking for," says Dottie Dalzell, a fourth-Tuesday volunteer and eight-year veteran.
Although the Ladies Aid Society sounds Victorian, "It's a very low-key organization," Bell says. "We have a luncheon in the spring, we have an annual meeting in August and we have a Christmas party in December."
Bell stresses that prices are low, books are in good condition and the help knows where things are. Name a classic book, and Bell can tell whether the Book Exchange has it and where to find it. (The store is organized by categories — fiction, historical fiction, biography, classics etc.)
"Please don't write this in any way to suggest that we need anymore donations" of books, she says, and then a few minutes later cautions a visitor against writing anything negative about book donors.
The friend who found Bell on the floor, after recovering from shock, told her, "Jinny, you must love this place," Bell recalled. "I said, 'I would get out of the sick bed to come here.'"
Asked what she thought a story about the Flat Rock Book Exchange should include, Bell said, "The location, the hours, the fact that we have extremely good prices."


The Book Exchange at 2680 Greenville Highway is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The phone number if 693-8311 and, yes, a real person answers the phone. And, did you know, it has really good prices.