Around 9:00 am on Saturday, Sept. 3, the University of Georgia Press began releasing notices on its social media that its van, packed with books and supplies for a display at the 2016 Decatur Book Festival (DBF), had been stolen.
The missing van has been located. Through circumstances that the Press (with invaluable assistance from DBF organizers and the City of Decatur) is still piecing together, we have learned that the van was not stolen at all, but reported in error by DeKalb County parking services personnel for being parked in the wrong zone and then illegally towed. More than three days passed from the time the van was towed (6:30 pm on Friday, Sept. 2) until its whereabouts were revealed to the Press (12:30 am on Tuesday, Sept. 6).
The van was parked in the downtown Decatur lot that the DBF had designated as the best place for exhibitors with oversized vehicles. The DBF had made all of the proper and necessary arrangements for exhibitors to use this lot. Neither the DBF nor the Press had any reason to think that a vehicle parked there for the festival would be towed. The Press had often parked in this same lot, without incident, during previous festivals.
A Press staffer discovered that the van was missing at around 7:45 a.m. on the second day of the festival. The Press concluded the van was stolen only after speaking—both by phone and in person—with the police as well as the company with exclusive towing rights for that lot. The outpouring of support and sympathy for the Press was immediate and immensely helpful in dealing with the loss of its property and, after months of planning, its severely diminished presence at the festival. The Press heard from authors, publishers, DBF staffers and attendees, fellow UGA employees and alumni, and many other friends across the country. Atlanta-area media also picked up on the unfolding story, helping to spread the news about the incident and asking citizens to keep their eyes open for both the van and the stolen books.
The response to the Press’s predicament would be reassuring to anyone who might think that the love of good books is fading from our culture. However, the Press now finds itself in the position of having to let its well-wishers know that our van was not stolen after all. It was towed for no conceivable reason. The Press was only to learn where the van was late at night on the third day it had been missing—after an employee of the same company that towed the van chanced to see Fox5 News Atlanta’s coverage of the incident.
The Press contacted Daren Wang for help as soon as the van was located. Wang, founder and executive director of the DBF, responded immediately. He connected the Press with helpful City of Decatur managers who, once they learned details of the van’s impoundment, fast-tracked its release.
“UGA Press, one of the Decatur Book Festival’s longest running and most important editorial partners, had their van illegally towed from a lot reserved for festival exhibitors on Friday night, and due to a clerical error, it became lost in the towing company’s system. We’re glad that the van and its materials have been found, but this is not a happy ending. UGA Press is an important part of the festival’s street fair, and they were very much missed by festival-goers all weekend. The UGA Press staff had worked for months preparing for the festival, and I know the lost opportunity to show off their fantastic books and sell them cannot be recovered. I’d encourage you to seek out their books at your local indie book store,” Wang said.
“It is hard to measure the impact of this lost weekend,” added Lisa Bayer, UGA Press Director. “The monetary investment in our presence at the DBF was significant. We had expected that book sales would recover that investment and more. As it was, we made nothing, because we had no books to sell. They were sitting in an impound lot. On another level, our DBF booth is a place to show off our great titles, catch up with friends of the Press and the university, and talk about books. The DBF is one of the most important venues we have for fulfilling our mission as a state and regional publisher. Little or none of that vital relationship-building work got done this year. We are grateful for the outpouring of support from across the state and country and look forward to returning to DBF next year under different circumstances.”
Timeline of events (times are approximate, but accurate within 15 minutes):
3:00 p.m., Friday, 9/2/16:
• UGA Press van is parked in the lot from which it was towed.
6:30 p.m., Friday, 9/2/16:
• Van is towed.
7:30 a.m., Saturday, 9/3/16:
• Press staffer discovers that the van is missing and calls towing company whose signs are posted in the lot. Press staffer is told by towing company that they are aware of every vehicle that comes onto the lot, that they do not have the van, and that no other towing company would have towed it. Two press staffers, still hesitant to conclude that the van is stolen, drive to towing company to confirm in person that van is not there. Two employees at the tow lot firmly assure the Press staffers that their company did not have the van, after getting a detailed description of the van from the Press staffers and being exhaustively questioned about other scenarios whereby the towing company could possibly have the van, perhaps in some other location. The Press staffers ask if they could walk around the lot so that they could be absolutely certain that the van was not there. The request was refused. While talking with lot employees, one of the Press staffers carefully scanned the lot for the van. The staffer confirms that the van was not in the lot at that time.
8:00 a.m., Saturday, 9/3/16:
• Press staffer calls Press management to report missing vehicle
8:30 a.m., Saturday, 9/3/16:
• Staffer calls police. An officer arrives, takes down essential details surrounding the missing van, and leaves contact information with Press staffer. Staffer asks officer if any other towing company might have the van. Officer says no, and offers the judgment that the van is stolen.
9:10 a.m., Saturday, 9/3/16:
• Press begins announcements on social media that its van has been stolen.
10:00 a.m., Saturday, 9/3/16:
• DBF begins.
• Press emails its authors featured on DBF panels to alert them about the stolen van.
10:15 a.m., Saturday, 9/3/16:
• Van is officially listed as stolen by Decatur police.
3:00 p.m., Saturday, 9/3/16:
• First major media coverage appears on AJC.com
6:00 p.m., Sunday, 9/4/2016:
• DBF ends.
10:00 p.m., Monday, 9/5/2016:
• Fox5 News Atlanta airs story on stolen UGA van
12:30 a.m., Tuesday, 9/6/16:
• Press is contacted by police and informed that van is at the tow lot.