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Founder of The Book Thing in Baltimore stepping down, new leader taking over

Founder of The Book Thing in Baltimore stepping down, new leader taking over
A customer looks over offerings at The Book Thing, which has a new acting director. (Jesse Neider / Patuxent Publishing)

The Book Thing of Baltimore is turning a new page.

Bonnie Hoppa, who has taken over as acting director of the free-to-all bookstore that operates out of a Vineyard Lane building in Abell, says she wants to increase its visibility, raise its profile and make it a more active member of the community.

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“I definitely have some changes planned,” says Hoppa, 32, who has worked at The Book Thing for a year, the past eight months on its social media presence. But one thing that won’t change, she promises, is what attracts most people in the first place: Everyone will still be free to walk away with as many books as they want, and not pay a cent.

Founder Russell Wattenberg, who opened The Book Thing in 2000 and brought it back after a devastating March 2017 fire, is taking a “much deserved departure, albeit motivated and sped along due to medical issues," according to an announcement posted to the nonprofit’s Facebook page July 1. Wattenberg could not be reached for comment, and Hoppa declined to offer any more details.

The Book Thing has had to tweak its donations policies, Hoppa said, because it simply has too many of some types of books; on occasion, it will stop accepting certain types. And it has recently started accepting cash donations, she said, to help pay for operating expenses.

One change visitors will doubtless appreciate: Hoppa wants to get air-conditioning for the warehouse-style building, which can get pretty sweltering when dozens of people visit on mid-summer afternoons.

A Navy veteran on medical retirement, Hoppa, who lives in Severn, said she is still working out the details of her plans, which include partnerships with area schools and businesses. She said she definitely would like to see an increase in the availability of children’s books, as well as books geared toward audiences of color.

“We need to represent one of the biggest demographics," she said, noting the neighborhood is predominantly African-American, but receives few books aimed at that audience. “Whenever we get some,” she said, “they fly off the shelves.”

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