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Little Free Auto Shop Fuels Smiles in the Louisville Neighborhood

Small free libraries— public shelves where visitors are encouraged to “pick up a book, share a book” — have become a familiar sight in cities across the country and around the world.

Small wooden depots often display bright colors, whimsical patterns, and designs as unique as the people who own them. Since the creation of the first small free library in 2009, the concept of “small free library” has evolved and expanded to include free small pantries and “blessing boxes.”

Now a new trend is emerging: small free libraries dedicated to small cars. There are at least two, and one of them is located in Louisville.

The Little Free Auto Shop, located at the intersection of Hoover Avenue and Lois Drive, allows members of the local community to trade in Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars. It is owned and maintained by longtime Louisville residents Bethany Sartell, her husband, Drew, and their children, Quinn, Rowan and Rhett.

Inventory at the Little Free Auto Shop Thursday near Lois Drive and Hoover Avenue in Louisville. (Matthew Jonas/staff photographer)

Bethany Sartell said she first got the idea through a friend, who discovered a “race car library” in San Diego a few years ago and posted a picture of it on Instagram. She said she knew right away that she wanted to have her own toy car library one day.

“I think there are things that attract you in life that put a little spark in your heart, and I knew immediately that was something I wanted in my front yard,” Sartell said. . “Childhood is a magical time, and bringing little things like this to the community helps make childhood more magical.”

In total, it took the Sartell family several months of work to order the parts, customize them, paint them and finish building the bookcase, but the Little Free Auto Shop has been a hit in the neighborhood since setting up shop about six weeks. .

The concept is the same as a small free library: kids, families and the young at heart can stop by to see what cars are available, pick up the ones they like and leave behind the ones they don’t use more for someone else to enjoy.

Laura Betance, a neighbor of the Sartells, frequently stops by the model car library with the children she babysits, and says she is always surprised by what she finds.

“There are different cars almost every day,” Betance said. “I think [the Sartells’ son] washes them and inventories them – it’s really cute.

Bethany Sartell said that although she and her family originally planned to keep a permanent catalog of the cars, their library has been so popular that it has been impossible to track all the cars traded in. Keeping the library stocked with toys has been an ongoing challenge, she said.

“We had initial donations from neighborhood college kids, and then we almost ran out right away,” Sartell said. “We hope it can keep running and that we don’t constantly have to get cars everywhere.”

Still, Sartell said, running out of toys quickly is a good challenge — it means they have a lot of visitors.

Some defenders argue that these types of “small libraries” can benefit communities by fostering participation, promoting sharing, and reducing unnecessary costs and waste associated with purchasing new materials.

For her part, Bethany Sartell says she loves seeing the way people’s faces light up when they visit or even walk past the library.

“You can see the fun,” Sartell said. “It’s supposed to trigger something special. We don’t see everyone passing by, but the people we see are so excited about it. »

Sartell also said she’s happy to be able to lift the spirits of people in her Louisville community in any way she can, especially at this point, two years after living through a pandemic — and nearly six months after the Marshall fire ravaged the area.

“Anything we could do to bring some joy to this community was something we wanted to do,” Sartell said. “We needed joy here.”

LOUISVILLE, CO - MAY 26: A Hot Wheels cars "small library" is seen near Lois Drive and Hoover Avenue in Louisville on Thursday, May 26, 2022. (Matthew Jonas/Staff Photographer)
The Little Free Auto Shop in Louisville is maintained by longtime Louisville residents, Bethany Sartell, her husband, Drew, and their children, Quinn, Rowan and Rhett. (Matthew Jonas/staff photographer)