Photo: Store manager Jeffrey Manta (left) helps check out Rex Buethes (right) assortment of books at the counter inside of Friends of the Stockton Library. (JOSHUA BREWER/ CONTRIBUTOR)
“That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings; that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”
-F. Scott Fitzgerald
If you are a reader, a lover of literature, you probably have a favorite book. Perhaps you still have the original copy, its pages worn and certain passages underlined. Most likely you have read it more than once, and if nudged, will enthusiastically describe the storyline and defend its virtue.
Imagine eliminating that entire experience from your life. Erase from your mind every idea, every reference point, every thought and emotion, every spark of joy, sorrow and compassion, reading the book brought forth in you.
For true readers, lovers of fiction or nonfiction, books are treasures and an integral part of everyday life. For a young Jeffrey Manta, currently the manager of Friends of the Stockton Library Bookstore, books were reliable companions, a powerful refuge from everyday life in a very small burg without a bookstore.
Thank goodness for the local library in the rural town of Boulder City, Nevada. Manta spent hours reading and feeding his insatiable curiosity on a multitude of subjects. Manta’s passion and respect for books and learning are a source of pride, joy and goodwill he naturally spreads during the course of book store business.
Started in 1958 by nine citizens seeking to enhance Stockton’s library resources, the non-profit morphed into a used bookstore 1992. The store relies on donations, including books, audio books, movies and music.
“And boy, especially since Covid, the donations just keep on coming. Hundreds of customers have been cleaning out their homes, or moving away,” Manta said. “Our inventory has increased immensely. People tell me they can’t find these books in other bookstores. We carry such a broad range of material. We have something for everyone. “
So much so, sometimes Jeff has to graciously decline donations when he knows, from the immense bandwith of his brain, that the store already has copies of these books or they just will not sell.
The increased donations and limited space in the current Parkwoods Shopping Center location has presented an organizational challenge for Jeff and his team of volunteers. Not to worry. Jeff’s leadership skills and keen eye for detail make the most of the space. Customers can easily browse well marked categories and will appreciate the orderly alpha by author. Movies and music are arranged by genre and then alphabetized.
Back to his remarkable brain power, equaled only by his gentle manner and innate goodness to all who enter. Jeff carries around a well tattered notebook. If you cannot locate the book you are after, Jeff will gladly take down your name, number and request, and notify you when a copy arrives.
A quick glance at these oft used pages reveals an impressive list. When asked how he remembers which items to hold when hundreds of donations come in, Jeff just grins and shrugs. “I don’t know. I just know.”
During the early 80’s, Jeff rode his bike from Lodi to Delta College while taking 21 units and working various part time jobs to fund his education. The always-hip Black Water Café proved to be one of the more influential jobs during this time.
“I have great memories of hanging out in that café with like minded people,” Manta said. “We talked about everything and traded books. The place attracted a well read clientele and offered a great sense of belonging. A strong community spirit.”
After Delta, Manta joined the counterculture movement and spent 13 years in Arcosanti, an experimental city in the Arizona desert.
“The whole idea was to make the world a better place. We grew our own food, used passive solar, built vertically and learned everything together along the way,” Manta said.
Up to 200 people lived in and ran the city and managed up to 40k visitors a year. Books, research, intuition and self reliance were essential. Manta managed and organized all the archives. Heavily self taught, books were his foundation as he learned to build computers and became proficient in graphic design.
“That’s why I’m comfortable wearing so many hats in this job. Managing the website, janitorial duties, training volunteers, customer service,” Manta said. “I’ve always lived this way. Always learning to do whatever needs to be done.”
And there is always so much to do. Only the manager position is paid. Volunteers are essential to the success of the non-profit, whose mission is to promote literacy and lifelong learning. Funds from the bookstore support materials and educational programs for the Stockton Public Library.
“Our volunteers work tirelessly and some have been committed for over twenty years to make this bookstore a vital part of the community.”
Manta is busy recruiting young students to volunteer as well. He believes many valuable life lessons can be learned by working in this bookstore. He emphasizes listening, customer service and a strong work ethic. His mentoring comes with consistent doses of empathy, compassion and respect.
During his Delta days he developed a business plan for creating a movie theater, book, music and thrift store all in one. Today he sees some of that potential in Friends of the Stockton Library.
“Eventually I’d like to have poetry readings and book signings, some live music,” Manta said. “A place for people to gather and share ideas. Education and reading are essential. It’s imperative to be part of the solution, to build a sense of community in Stockton.”
This book store is full of treasures.
Friends of the Stockton Library Bookstore
Address: 1724 West Hammer Lane, Stockton, CA
Phone: (209) 476-9033
Days/hours: Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays, 10 a.m.-5p.m.