The volunteers have quit. The keys to the front door have been seized. And the old books dropped off outside the Friends of the Dana Point Library bookstore are piling up.
The tiny but popular shop -- an annex to the library that makes about $54,000 a year selling well-thumbed books for pocket change -- has fallen victim to an internal squabble over how its profits should be spent.
Emotions run high, but this is a particularly polite dispute. The rebellious volunteers marching in front of the bookstore are more apologetic than angry. Rather than shout and picket, they quietly pass out fliers. The protest letters pasted on the store's window read: "We are so sorry to quit."
At the heart of the fuss is an accusation by several Friends volunteers that the nonprofit's board of directors has been spending bookstore proceeds on parties, newsletters and other community organizations instead of the library.
The dispute drove the vice president to resign in protest March 31. The store managers -- all volunteers -- walked off the job eight days later. Another board member resigned Tuesday.
The president of the board, meanwhile, said he and a newly sworn-in vice president tried to reopen the bookstore, but the key -- stored at the library -- had been confiscated by the county, which has decided to leave the bookstore locked until the Friends resolve their differences.
"This has always been a nice store, and they've managed to wreck it," said June Bauer, the vice president who quit. "I mean, volunteers ... we're giving our time. We can't be treated like we're a corporation."
Meanwhile, books that donors drop off daily are piling up in a meeting room and the store's $1,000-a-week revenue has dried up. That money amounts to about 10% of the library's $550,000 annual budget and funds several library programs. The two sides have exchanged e-mails and letters but have not scheduled any talks.
"It's an unfortunate communication gap," said Friends board President Bill Shepherd. "We've offered several times to meet with them and they've refused."
The volunteers are standing firm, demanding that the board agree to spend funds only on the library or resign.
"It's sad that they feel that way," Shepherd said. "But that is not an option."
The bookstore, a congenial spot with a steady flow of customers who often linger and chat with volunteers, occupies a 200-square-foot annex of the main library and is packed with thousands of books that volunteers collect, sort, clean, stack and sell six days a week.
The tensions between the Friends board and the 110 volunteers, many of whom are widowed and retired women in their 60s to 80s, are fairly recent in the 12-year history of the bookstore.
A sore point with the volunteers is the feeling that the majority of the board is made up of people who have not paid their dues as bookstore volunteers.
According to bookstore managers, the feud reached a boiling point after several expenditures on non-library business, such as a party last fall for Dana Point's new city manager, Douglas Chotkevys, which was co-sponsored by several other organizations. Friends money paid the bills for the event at the Renaissance Cafe, but that money was repaid through tickets sold by the Dana Point Historical Society, the Festival of Whales, Lighthouse Society and Coastal Arts.
The sold-out event "paid for itself," said Shepherd, the board president.
But the volunteers say people who donate books and spend money at the bookstore assume the funds are benefiting the library, not paying for parties, even if it was repaid.
"People who donate [or buy] books, we assure them that their money and donations go directly to the library," said Victoria Tongish, a volunteer manager. "But what's happening is money is being diverted to other community organizations."
Shepherd and others, however, believe that relationships with other groups and City Hall are necessary for the library to flourish. One of the goals is to build a new library, which would include a new bookstore, he said.
"Part of building a library means you have to have good relationships [throughout the community] and -- like it or not -- there's politics involved," he said.
Carol O'Connell, who resigned as vice president for public relations Tuesday, said the dispute is essentially the old versus the new. "This particular board looked into the future and wanted to prepare for that, and the managers and some of the volunteers wanted to hold onto the way things were."
The volunteers say there is a simple solution to the quarrel: Create a foundation that raises funds separately from the volunteers and uses that money to build relationships with other groups and for activities that do not directly benefit the library.
Shepherd said that's an interesting idea but wishes the two groups could discuss a solution face to face.
"Until we are able to sit down at the table and fully understand each other's point of view," he said, "we aren't going to be able to bridge this communication gap."