About a block south of Regis, at West 49th Avenue and Lowell Boulevard, stands a former Regis 66 service station that’s been closed and vacant for several months. It’s about to become home to “a food bank, but for books!” said Melissa Monforti, executive director of BookGive.
“People can donate books, and there will be a public space for people to browse for free books,” she explained. “It’s a little like a giant free library.”
BookGive will be the nonprofit arm of BookBar, just down the street at 4280 Tennyson St. BookBar owner Nicole Sullivan is excited to open the space to house what she said started as a community book drive.
About 10 years ago, Sullivan got involved along with other parents from Academia Ana Marie Sandoval, where her kids went to school. They decided to host a community book exchange, which later became known as the Northwest Denver Book Exchange. The group initially started by inviting people to exchange their old books with others in the cafeteria at Sandoval. As the event grew, they expanded to a number of other locations throughout North Denver, and it’s been held at North High School in recent years.
Sullivan opened BookBar and offered the book exchange a permanent home there, so they could keep it going throughout the year.
“With the non-existent back office space and overworked staff at BookBar, we couldn’t keep doing what we were doing well. We ran out of space to accept more book donations and staff didn’t have time to go through it,” Sullivan explained. “So, I realized we either needed to scrap the program or expand. Since it’s really my passion to just get books to people, I started looking at warehouse spaces.”
After having little luck finding a warehouse space that would work, she credits her real estate agent with having convinced her to consider looking at old gas stations.
“Regis 66 came on the market, and the owners had already done a ton of environmental mitigation,” she said. “It’s a great location, close to BookBar, near Regis and part of a great community.”
But she said she had to adjust her thinking about the space a bit because it wasn’t just a warehouse — the building had not just the two garage bays, but also a big lobby, which she envisioned as more of a community space. “The building lent itself to being more than just a drop-and-go spot,” she explained. “After adjusting my thinking a bit, it really expanded the whole concept I had in mind.”
She closed on the building in September and hired Monforti to put together the nonprofit, recruiting a board of directors, creating bylaws and a mission statement. The board held its first meeting in November.
Sullivan said they had initially hoped to open in mid-November, but the space was just a blank box and needed a lot of upgrades. She said they’ve been cleaning it up, painting, putting in shelving, and moving all the books over from BookBar. She now thinks they will open in mid-to late-January.
Monforti said, once they open, the public will be able to drop books off at BookGive during their regular business hours. They also actively solicit donations from the book industry.
From there, BookGive coordinates volunteers to help them sort the books by category.
“The donation I picked up last week had a number of large print books, and so I’d be looking for organizations that need large print, and then we’d package those up and deliver them,” Monforti said. “We will be doing all of that with volunteer work, and will need lots of volunteers to help.” She said they are thrilled to be partnering with Regis University to have students volunteer to help sort, as well.
BookGive also has a retro-fitted ambulance, Mavis the Magical Book Mobile, that visits various locations. “It’s hard to get her started in the winter, but that’s the kind of thing we love to do! We have taken the book mobile to Brown elementary’s Friday book giveaways and other schools, but we are not only donating to children in schools,” Monforti said. “We are donating books to retirement homes, jails and prisons, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Safe House Denver, Stout Street Clinic and Bienvenidos Food Bank. It’s for all ages and all the needs of our community.”
There’s a full list of the organizations they have donated to on their website at bookbardenver.com/bookgive. Watch there for updates on the grand opening, volunteer opportunities and ways to donate.
“It’s super fun,” Sullivan said. “We are really excited.”
Editors’ Note: the print edition of this story had an incorrect amount of time the service station had been closed. It’s been corrected in this version. Thank you to the residents who reached out to help us clarify the story. We regret the error.