By Ted Waddell
LIBERTY March 16, 2004 In Sullivan County, folks dont burn books. Instead, theyre seized and put up for auction if youre behind in your rent.
Back in March 2001, Tasa Faronii opened up the Oracle Bookstore along Main Street in Liberty. Over the few next months, the bookstore became more than a place to buy a book, as people started gathering there to share their love of poetry, a healthy snack or check out art shows on the walls.
But she found the overhead too high and pulled up her stacks of books, relocating to a building a bit further downtown.
A lot of our startup capital went into a building that we just couldnt afford to stay in. It got way too expensive, said Faronii, standing in a biting wind on Friday as she watched the contents of her store auctioned off during a sheriffs sale.
After she broke her three-year lease at the first location, owned by Village Properties International, LLC, landlord Norman Kerr got a judgment against her in the amount of $19,256.52, signed by Town of Neversink Justice Barbara Garigliano.
On Thursday, March 4, representatives of the Sullivan County Sheriffs Departments Civil Division showed up at the doorstep of her bookstore with a court order authorizing them to seize the contents of the store and put them up for public auction the following Friday afternoon.
(The second bookstore is in a building reportedly owned by Mark Hirsch of Main Street Rentals.)
The original landlord wanted to collect the money that we would have paid if we had stayed there for the three years, said Faronii. We broke the lease, without a doubt. . . . If we could have paid that kind of money, we would have stayed there.
It was impossible to maintain in the economy and town were in. . . . It was a choice of closing or moving, she added. Liberty is just coming back.
What was it like to watch her books, records and a hand-carved chess set disappear into the back of a rental truck destined for a sheriffs sale at Sams Service Station?
It was difficult, recalled Faronii.
So on Friday, a handful of folks who turned out to grab a good deal were joined by members of Sullivan Peace and Justice, who billed the event as a Violation of Community Spirit Demonstration.
In a press release issued by Sullivan Peace & Justice, the grassroots organization alleged, There are several unresolved legal issues surrounding the seizure of the Oracles inventory of books and artwork. One of those is the confiscation of consignment items not belonging to either Ms. Faronii or The Oracle.
In stark contrast to these actions by Village Properties, the Oracle Bookstore has been a regular and dependable contributor to Libertys village life, continued the press release.
Standing on the frozen mud among rows of wrecked cars, whipped by a wind fluttering a blue tarp covering the rental truck, Paul Trust, the sheriffs departments chief civil officer, started bidding for lot #1 (about 10,000 hardcover books in 185 cardboard boxes) at $1,000.
After someone finally bid one dollar, the lot went for about $650.
About an hour or so later, a final bid of $140 was placed by Jim Gordon of Liberty for lot #4, consisting of miscellaneous furniture and one painting of bottle and fruit.
And then he turned around and gave it all back to Faronii, so at least shed have a few tables and chairs for her next bookstore.
The Oracle Bookstore was a great asset to the community, and I dont want to see it split up and thrown to the wind, he said. I couldnt see it destroyed.
Its not just about money, added Gordon. Money is important, but its not the only thing in life.
When it was all over, the sheriffs sale had raked in $1,477.
Thomas Lardieri, a dealer in antiques and fine art from New Windsor, wasnt too thrilled with the sale.
What kind of bozo operation is this? he said, stomping off to his SUV. I came a long way for nothing. . . . It was a bunch of boxes in back of a truck, and I couldnt see nothing. . . . I didnt see any antiques I seen a bunch of boxes.
Stephen Bachop of Obernburg said he showed up because I was curious to see what it was all about, but when I looked at the terms of the sale something about the items subject to liens my first reaction was I didnt want to get involved in anybody elses legal battles. . . . I didnt want to get sued.
While the sheriffs sale went ahead according to law, a section of the terms of sale distributed to bidders read, The interest of the judgment debtor being sold may be subject to liens, mortgages, taxes or other encumbrances.
Richard Riseling, a member of Sullivan Peace & Justice, said he didnt know all the ins and outs of the legal issues behind the sheriffs sale but turned out to support Faronii.
Shes a great member of the community and has done wonderful things, he said. Why the haste?
In recent years, the Oracle Bookstore became home to the countys only Spanish-language 12-step program and was widely known around town as a safe place for kids to hang out after school and catch up on events, read or do a little homework.
It was the place on Main Street to have a 24-hour poetry reading, signings by local authors and open mikes.
While Faroniis old landlord is still stuck with some back rent, shes not giving up on the idea of having a bookstore.
Were going to pick it up again, but were not going to rent from anybody, she said. Were going to see if we can find a building of our own.
But first, Faroniis got to work through some legalities.
About a third of my inventory belonged to authors, artists and musicians, she said, claiming that some of the items seized were on consignment.
All these people lost their artwork, books and recordings, she said. Suddenly somebody else had it, trying to collect a debt.