Get ready for a very New York-like story: exactly a year ago, then 70-year-old Tom Burgess, a New Yorker since 1975, was dealing with COVID-19 at New York-Presbyterian. Before passing, he called Veronica Liu, the founder of Word Up Community Bookshop in Washington Heights, where Burgess had been volunteering since 2011, to let her know that his time was coming and that she should take care of the tens of thousands of books, records and miscellaneous objects that he had collected over the years.
Volunteers from the bookstore showed up to help move the massive amount of stuff from Burgess' apartment in Inwood to a big common area inside a co-up building at 876 Riverside Drive in Washington Heights. The collection is staggering in its breadth—it includes DVDs, comic books, old Playbills, entire poetry volumes, travel guides, old magazines, VHS tapes, academic journals, novels and much more—and functions as a snapshot and reflection of life in New York throughout the years. Indeed, a remarkable treasure trove of items bound to feature something of interest.
Volunteers began referring to the makeshift space as Recirculation, in reference to Burgess' philosophy of life—"a process of gathering and reusing objects based on the idea that capitalism had already produced enough to go around," according to Curbed—and the name stuck.
Open to the public on Sundays between 3 and 6pm and Wednesdays between 5 and 8pm, Recirculation is currently operating on a pay-what-you-can basis (for updates, follow the initiative on Instagram at @recirculation.nyc). Although the majority of the Word Up Community Bookshop network has been working on the project since it first opened, the pop-up shop has only just recently formally become part of the original bookstore in terms of financials. Recirculation's proceeds will therefore go directly to Word Up Community Bookshop, which will take on the monetary burden of operating the store.
Although slowly selling through the stock, Liu is quick to note that there is a lot still up for grabs and that Word Up Community Bookshop is working to donate portions of the collection to specific organizations. "We'll find a home for all the stuff that is there and we're also doing some matchmaking," explains Liu over the phone. "People have contacted us for prison book donations, Books Through Bars and Bellevue Juvenile Justice Mental Health Service has also reached out, for example. The Native American/Indigenous collection will be going to Sitting Bull College."
As of now, the space is set to remain open through the end of May, although Liu foresees having to operate for longer and is working on a proposal to do so in a financially viable way. Word of advice? Go scour the shelves this week and let us know what jewels you come across.
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