"Unwanted" books lead to a booming hidden Northern Michigan business

This year, a Northern Michigan business will turn more than 2 million pounds of unwanted books into a profit and jobs for 10 people.

Randy Kaastra is a visionary. The Leelanau County businessman found a way to turn what was once a side job into a profitable business for himself, his family, and his employees, while at the same time, giving back to some very appreciative customers who love bargains and books. Randy is often surrounded by books at his business Blue Vase Books. In his words, his company's business model is pretty simple to understand, "We buy whole tractor-trailer loads of used books and we sift through them to find ones that we can sell online that are profitable."

Chances are you have seen used books for sale on websites like eBay and Amazon. Those are just a couple of the places where Randy sells his used books. He gets most of his books from places like Goodwill stores around the state. They arrive at his processing center by the truckload every week. Randy says "each truckload is approximately 20 tons of books, and we've done about 51 truckloads of books this year."

Randy, his wife, and their 10 employees look at each book and judge it by its cover. They ask a simple question, does this book have value to someone? About 90% of them don't. Those get recycled into toilet paper and paper towels. About 5% of the books, like textbooks and popular fiction, get sold online. Randy says his company makes their money. But the remaining 5% of books provides an opportunity for locals to scoop up a bargain.

Every two weeks, Blue Vase opens up their processing floor for a dollar book sale. (The business is not a bookstore and is not open to the public except during the book sales.) "Many people walk in thinking that they are walking in it to a garage sale not expecting to see 25,000 books that are categorized fairly well," explains Randy. For sale, for a dollar, are popular books, beautiful hardbacks, and a seemingly endless supply of kids' books which are often sold by the bagful for $10.

When it comes to these books, it's all about getting them into the hands of people who love to read. It's long away from where Randy started when selling the random book that he found here and there online was more of a hobby than a career. But he's built his company with a vision of not only turning a profit but also giving back to the community with things like the dollar book sale, as well as to the dedicated workers who helped make his dream a reality. Randy says "one of the most satisfying things to me is being able to employ people, creating meaningful work, in a place where people can have fun."

To learn about Blue Vase Books and when their next book sale is click here.

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