Wally Kennedy: Always Buying Books a hot spot on a cold day

Jan. 19—Book lovers are a dedicated bunch. You would think that last week's bitter cold would keep them indoors. You know that stereotype image — they're wrapped in a thick blanket, sitting in a wingback chair illuminated by the glow of burning embers in the fireplace as they slowly turn the pages of a book that uses the magic of imagery to transport them to another time and place.

Well, the people I saw on Tuesday coming into Always Buying Books, 5357 N. Main Street Road, were not at all like that. These were hardy folks who were dressed for the weather. They were readers out looking for something to read.

Among them were a couple of young men from Pittsburg (Kansas) State University who had heard about the place and decided to check out the inventory. The proprietor, Bob Wolfe, asked them some pointed questions that kept them in stitches — like "Who's the smarter one?" and "Who has had the most girlfriends?" They were followed into the store by a mother and her young son who made a beeline to the section in the store that is dedicated to children. It's extensive.

As this entertainment was unfolding before me, I sat back in a comfortable chair in a warm side room, surrounded by rows and rows and rows of hardcover books, and imagined that I had been transported to a time and place when the printed word reigned supreme. This bookstore, which was started in 2001 in the former Art Legg's Flowers and Wedding Chapel in Airport Drive, feels like it has been here for a long, long time. It has 60,000 books on its shelves. It is decorated with dozens of old globes and typewriters, a collection of figurines and a bust of Elvis Presley with blue eyes, which he had. Only the books are for sale.

A Webb City native, Wolfe, 75, has been a collector for as long as he can remember. He once had a huge collection of Bibles. He got his start with books by taking over a backroom in Goad's Antiques on the north side of the Carthage square.

On a table in front of him are some of his latest acquisitions, which he has had covered with mylar to protect them. There's a 1925 copy of "Paul Bunyan," a 1929 copy of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and a 1931 copy of "War and Peace." Said Wolfe: "We are constantly buying books. These are beautiful books. But a book that is 100 years old is not that old in the book world."

The store, managed the last 15 years by Alyse Foley, has hosted more than 600 book signings. The store is booked with signings through the end of March. As an example, "And the Angels Came," a book written by Dr. Larry Brothers, a Joplin optometrist, will be featured March 30. It tells the story of individuals who were helped by "guardian angels" after the 2011 tornado. To support local authors, all proceeds from sales in connection with the signings go to the authors.

Brothers, who said this is first book signing, expressed appreciation for the opportunity afforded by the bookstore to "let people know it was not all damage and destruction that day. There were incredible things that happened that day that will give people hope."

Wolfe does more than support local authors. He helps put food in the mouths of local children. Wolfe opens an envelope containing a colorful card. It has been signed by the "Kitchen Family" at Dover Hill Elementary in Joplin. The card thanks the bookstore for contributing money to the school's lunch program to help underprivileged children so that they can have the same meals as other children in the school. The card reads: "We thank you for your generous gift. You made a difference for 5 families for the week."

When Wolfe found out through his daughter that not all of his grandson's first grade classmates were receiving the same lunch, he wanted to know more. He was told that the parents of some children could not afford a regular school lunch. Their children were still fed a lunch, but it was not the same lunch as the other children whose parents could afford a regular meal. To help these children avoid the stigma "of people looking down on you through no fault of your own," he has been sending weekly donations of $25 to $100 to the lunch programs of local and area elementary schools.

"I did not like that — that all of the kids did not receive the same meal," he said. "I think more people would donate to their school lunch programs to help these children if they knew about this. It's not fair to these kids. I have had retired teachers tell me this is not good for the self-esteem of these kids."

Putting the card back in the envelope, it was pretty clear by the expression on his face that it meant a lot to him and that he was determined to press on with his crusade.

New flea market

The first D&K Flea Market kicked off on Friday at the Joplin Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 534, located northwest of the intersection of Zora Street and North Main Street Road. Look for the tank parked outside.

The flea market continues from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. A $1 donation entry fee will be charged with proceeds going to the VFW. Veterans and children under 12 are free. The VFW kitchen will be open for lunch.

An organizer said this flea market/swap meet will feature about 30 booths and tables with vintage items, antiques, handmade crafts and collectibles. To reserve a table or booth, call 417-529-1543. Table rentals for the day start at $3. Future dates for this pop-up flea market will be announced.

Contact Wally Kennedy at wkennedy@joplinglobe.com.