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She rescued £200,000 from landfill and hopes to find a home for them all

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Standing amid her towering piles of books, with barely enough space to move between them, Myriam Gaudet clings to the belief that everyone will find a new home.

Gaudet, owner of Red Cart Books in Cornwall, Ontario, now has a barn and two other farms on the same property filled with hardbacks, paperbacks and coffee table books, covering every genre imaginable.

“If I don’t take them, they go to the landfill. So I take them,” she said.

“I just wish we could hold onto them long enough until the right person comes to pick them up, because eventually – pretty much every book – someone will come looking for it.”

Myriam Gaudet stands among the shelves she set up when she started collecting unwanted books from thrift stores. His inventory has since swelled to fill two entire farms and a large barn. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

After five years of collecting unwanted books from local thrift stores that would otherwise be thrown in the local landfill, Gaudet has amassed nearly 200,000 titles.

However, this wealth of literature poses particular problems.

A small stack of books sits atop a mountain of boxes containing Gaudet’s weekly collections from seven thrift shops in the Cornwall area. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

The books are essentially stored deep, inaccessible to customers, and unexplorable by the three people in the bookstore since most of them are uncatalogued. Gaudet is also about to maximize the storage space she has.

She predicts that within a few months she will run out of space in her family’s farm buildings and will be forced to stop accepting new donations.

Stacks of books take up every square inch of space in this farmhouse, which is owned by the Gaudet family. She says she is grateful to be able to use the farm buildings to house the books while she formulates a long-term plan for her inventory. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

Books come from thrift stores

What Gaudet calls a “tsunami of books” comes mainly from seven thrift stores in the Cornwall area. Often, donated books cannot be sold in a timely manner, so they are pulled from shelves and dumped at the local dump.

Gaudet said she discovered the problem a few years ago when she ran the book department of a for-profit thrift store. More than three-quarters of the books donated have never been sold.

The fiction section in the small Red Cart Books shop on Pitt Street in Cornwall city centre. Gaudet hopes that one day his entire inventory will be available to the public. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

After leaving that job, she started Red Cart Books. For the first year, it was an online-only business, primarily focused on selling a collection of around 4,000 books for a friend.

But things changed when a former colleague, now working at another thrift store in the area, contacted Gaudet to ask if she could take some of the store’s surplus books, diverting them from landfill.

Gaudet began dropping by weekly to pick up unsold books. At first, inventory that didn’t fit in its small Pitt Street storefront was stored on neat rows of shelves set up in the Gaudet family farmhouse, alphabetized and cataloged.

Some of the books Gaudet collected early on are neatly stored on the shelves of the family farm. She says she photographed a few thousand to sell them online. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

But then she started contacting other thrift stores to see if they had any landfill books she could get off their hands.

A thrift store quickly became seven.

Too much of a good thing

Julie Leroux manages the Salvation Army thrift store in Cornwall. For the past three years, she says, the store has set aside 300 to 700 pounds for Gaudet each week. She is delighted that the books are not lost.

“[Myriam’s] vision, his need for books…is just as strong as ours,” she said. “We want to make sure everyone has the chance to read.”

Julie Leroux, manager of the Salvation Army thrift store in Cornwall, says the books normally sit on the sales floor of her store for around four weeks. Those that don’t sell after that date are boxed for Red Cart Books. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

These days, every time Gaudet does her weekly rounds, she comes back with over 2,000 books, but now she has “no place to put them.”

At the end of December, she posted on her store’s Facebook page in search of a solution.

She has a tentative plan to build a small storage building, but there are limits to what she can afford.

“Nobody gets rich running a bookstore,” she said. “You do it because you love books.”

In one section of the barn, Gaudet wrapped the books in clear plastic and garbage bags to protect them from the weather. She regularly checks the books to make sure they remain in good condition. (Alexander Behne/CBC)

“The Value of Every Pound”

Gaudet is fueled by the desire to keep the books around long enough for the right buyer to come along.

Monique Sauvé came to Red Cart Books looking for a meditation guide to help her use the healing room she had just created in her home.

She says it’s hard to find good books on the subject, but New Chakra Healing by Cyndi Dale – once destined for landfill – sat on a shelf waiting for her.

“It’s good to see they’re not thrown away, because every pound has value,” Sauvé said.

Monique Sauvé visited Red Cart Books for the first time and found a guide to meditation, a genre she says is hard to find. (Alexander Behne/CBC)