Hundreds of people line up to be first at the annual book fair


The queue was forming hours before the doors opened, but many weren’t just waiting to fill bags with books, they were basking in the calm before the storm at the Founders Annual Book Fair.

Arriving at Founders Heritage Park Nelson at 9:30 am, I was almost considered late with only 30 minutes until the calm dispersed into a rush for the entrance. The queue was already over 100 people. Some stood in hats and gloves next to suitcases or several striped canvas bags, while others were prepared with camping chairs and coffees to go.

The annual book fair runs for nine days from the Queen’s birthday weekend, costing $2 for a one-day entry or $5 for a nine-day pass.

Louis Standfield had been in the queue since 8:45 a.m.

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He said he had been attending the event for about 20 years, no longer taking his children who were now adults. Instead, their rooms had become part of the book-collecting process.

“When the children leave the house, we take over one of their rooms and make it another library.”

This was to meet the roughly 300 pounds he left the fair with every year, he said.

Closer to the head of the queue was Paul Edwards of Christchurch who had made an annual pilgrimage for 10 years.

His mindset of arriving early was to be undercover if it rained, he said.

The queue started at Founders Annual Book Fair before 7 a.m. and continually grew by more than 100 until the doors opened at 10 a.m.

ANDY MACDONALD/Stuff

The queue started at Founders Annual Book Fair before 7 a.m. and continually grew by more than 100 until the doors opened at 10 a.m.

No books sat at his feet and no rucksack adorned his back, his method of containment was boxes, he said, normally leaving with about 10 full.

“You just can’t help yourself.”

Further down the queue, Vicky and Carol Singleton had struck up a friendship and agreed that the only thing missing was a coffee cart.

Carol Singleton says she enjoys joining the queue with other voracious readers to be a part of

ANDY MACDONALD/Stuff

Carol Singleton says she enjoys joining the queue with other voracious readers to be part of the “excitement, building”. “I just like being part of the atmosphere.”

Singleton said she’s been keen on going for many years, with the main reason now being FOMO (fear of missing out).

“I just come to browse. I don’t feel as feverish as I did in the past. But I have to be here, I can’t stay home.

She had seen the variety of books change since she started going to the fair in her early days.

The book fair lasts for nine days and features such a variety of books, DVDs, CDs, puzzles and records that people come from far and wide to attend the annual event.

ANDY MACDONALD/Stuff

The book fair lasts for nine days and features such a variety of books, DVDs, CDs, puzzles and records that people come from far and wide to attend the annual event.

The books were “pretty shitty at the time,” she said.

“People weren’t used to buying and giving away, it was mostly people’s old junk. There wasn’t the same quality of books you get today, or the variety – it’s really expanded.

Back at the start of the queue, 10am was only moments away and the tension was mounting. When the doors swung open, the scene was organized chaos. The $2 entry fee was tossed into the volunteers’ buckets and a stampede ensued. Some walked quickly, others on foot, while a few ran. Hair fluttered in their wake and the thump of feet pounded the ground with determination.

Hundreds of thousands of books are constantly sorted for the book fair,

ANDY MACDONALD/Stuff

Hundreds of thousands of books are constantly sorted for the book fair, “twice a week…52 weeks a year,” says coordinator Karen Clark.

Inside the main building, Founders Book Fair coordinator Karen Clark briefed a few volunteers at a checkout.

Despite claims that the fair ranks second in the country, Clark could not confirm whether it was the second largest book fair after the Dunedin Book Fair, but “according to one of the punters, this is the best book fair in the South Island”.

She said it brought people from all over including Timaru, Christchurch, Chertsey and Wellington.

Preparation for the event never stops, as the books are sorted, “twice a week…52 weeks a year,” Clark said, and they’re all donated.

As I walked out of the fair at 10:15 a.m., there were already people in the queue dragging full bags and boxes to the exit, ready to come back a few moments later, or perhaps at the weekend.

As Clark said, “the first day isn’t all the best books.”

“We have some of the best books and they can come out at the end.”

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