COVID Bookselling 9 Months and Counting

Blue Boutique
Blue Boutique


Unbelievable…the demon or demons have returned.

I haven’t checked the groundhog portal to hell—or China—or Sumatra—for many weeks.

Why should I? I capped the hole with a 120-pound stone.

Yet when I drove down the hill from the 7-acre field with a load of firewood last weekend, I noticed the ground was disturbed.

I approached and stopped in disbelief.

Groundhog Hole


But there it was. A handful of the 100 plus liquor and wine bottles I’ve put down that pit had been dug out. The creature had dug a path—a new tunnel—at the far edge of the capstone.

Had it dug its way in? Or had it come from beneath the earth?

No matter.

I’m ready to continue the battle.

“Once more into the breech!”

This weekend, I’ll push as many bottles down the new tunnel as I am able. I will get some heavy stones and set them in the mouth of the tunnel.

Someday the void will be filled. Sometime there will be no way to dig auxiliary tunnels. There is a great deal of rock in the land here. At some point, the beast will be stymied by impenetrable stone.

The creature—unless it is some kind of super rodent—is hibernating now. The temperatures have been in the low 30s. I’ll see if can’t make the vermin’s slumber it’s Big Sleep. It’s Dirt Nap.

“To hell’s heart, I will bury thee; for hate’s sake, I spit my last breath at thee!” I said aloud.

I won’t know til spring.

Unless the creature rises before that.

It couldn’t. That wouldn’t be natural.


Clif and I rode down to Gaithersburg. That county announced yesterday they are closing the restaurants next Tuesday. Carry out and outdoor dining are still permitted. Kind of chilly to go al fresco.

Will we be closed again?

It was bright and chilly.

The Gaithersburg store continues to be exemplary.

They caught a shoplifter there Monday. A mature guy. A regular. We nicknamed him Mr. Clean. Why? He is completely bald and has a gold ring in one ear. He seemed respectable. I interacted with him a couple times when we were renovating last spring. Back then, some of the LPs he brought to the counter to buy had price stickers that appeared to have been altered. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. A couple times. After all, he is mature and looks and acts respectable.

I got a text from the manager who was at home working her “real job”—remotely. An observant recently hired bookseller saw Mr. C leaving with an unnatural bulge in his jacket. He followed Mr. C to his car and saw a stack of loose LPs inside—OUR records, all collectible ones at $15 each and up. When asked about them, Mr. C walked away, pretending he was doing business on his cell phone. Our guy waited, and when the perp returned, told him he would call the police if Mr. C didn’t return them all. He recovered about $600 in LPs.

“Call the police anyway,” I texted the manager who was at home. I was angry. This wasn’t some punk or substance abuser. This guy was respectable. He had money.

I was told they don’t think he had ever stolen before. Just tried to play games like giving himself a discount altering prices.

“They told him they would call the police if he ever returned.”

Maybe he snapped. COVID Kleptomania.

But now Mr. Clean is dirty.

Today, I was going down for an inspection and to follow up on a house call I’d done a couple weeks ago and to pull some dupes and culls for Books by the Foot.

“We need 6 feet of Popular Trade softcovers and 6 feet of Philosophy.”

I enjoy doing this. It is therapeutic for the stores and for me. Every garden needs pruning from time to time.

Clif pulled up to the store and began carrying in the things we were delivering.

“Can you price these records?” an assistant asked me.

A crate of records was produced from behind the counter. There were five stacks rubber-banded separately with the name and phone number of the customer that wanted them. Most had the stickers peeled off. I can always tell by the residue. One stack had a note on it saying the customer found these in the Dollar crates outside.

I got angry.

Do we have a Plague of vinyl villains all of a sudden?

I priced those with prices removed or clearly altered stickers far higher than their value. When called, the crooks would be told the prices were now much higher than they were before they had altered them.

The stack “from the Dollar crates”?

Talking Heads, Bob Marley and other blue-chip stuff. We think the bad guy had rummaged through a buy we had made on the sidewalk and hadn’t yet loaded into the van. I put astronomical prices on them as well.

Maybe that will be a deterrent to their shenanigans.

Life’s too short.

I headed back to Fiction and dropped former bestseller trade paperbacks into plastic tubs. That was easy. I headed to the Philosophy section. It was painfully thin. It would hurt the stock to cull there. Classic philosophy by author we stock in Lit alphabetically. I moved to Lit and drew a blank.

I couldn’t think of any philosophers!

Yeah, I was in a hurry and angry at thieves but…


Then: “Plato.”


“St. Augustine!”



Maybe part of it was the feeling I had of being watched.


After all, I still think the place may be haunted.

Maybe part of it was my flusteredness. Thieves and crooks!

I only got a few feet of dupes. We had to go.

Back in the van, the woman in my iPhone told us how far to go and which way to turn.

I’d been here before. It was like time travel. When I was growing up in Montgomery County, it was developing rapidly—mostly in direct radius from its border with the District of Columbia. I’ve written about driving with friends in beat-up old cars at night short distances from our development and then being in farm country or wilderness in minutes.

In the decades since then, the growth in population and housing development and urban sprawl has been exponential.

“Here we are, Clif. Turn in here.”

We pulled up to a large wrought-iron gate. I called the daughter—who is about my age, I would guess. The gate swung open of its own accord. Two farm dogs milled around the entrance.

“Better wait til they are called off. We don’t want to run over a customer’s pet.”

We soon headed up the gravel lane and parked next to a large garage building with an antique Mobilgas sign hung from it.


If you’ve ever watched the TV show Pickers—well, this was their kind of place. When I’d first visited, I was enthralled with everything but the books.

You’ll see why.

I’d made a small offer for the books, and when I was told the elderly dad would need to be consulted, I figured I’d never hear from them again. No loss.

Usually, I wouldn’t return for such a low value group. It is expensive to go once and inspect. To go twice is…twice as expensive.

But these folks were respectable. An old family that had managed to hold off the ravages of urban “improvement” and keep about 15 acres of the old farm. Hovering all about its perimeter were McMansions and other houses with no trees and separated by only a few feet of lawn. The kind of house you could virtually reach across and touch hands with your neighbor leaning out their window.

“Hi! We’re back.”

“The books are all on those dollies.”

They were indeed old dollies, like you would see in train stations long ago. Heavy iron wheels. The bed made out of thick old planks or worn wood.

I’d already been there. Clif stood and just looked around and around. I imagine his mouth was agape, but since he was masked, I couldn’t be sure.

If only the books had been nearly as good as the two-dozen vintage pedal cars hanging from the rafters.

Pedal Carts

If only the books had been as good as 18 or so horse-drawn carriages.

Horse-Drawn Carriage

Or the Model T.

Model T

Or the Jag.


The books were more on par with the moose head, I’m afraid.

Moose Head

Well, so far. They were piled up in a mess when I first looked.

We packed.

I looked around this little oasis in cosmopolitan Gaithersburg—horses, sheep and “curated” antique “hoarding.”

The old barn even had a cool cat door.

Cat Barn Door

I put one cardboard beer flat that caught my eye onto the passenger seat for me to inspect on the way back to Frederick.

The half-leather DC buildings book was in great shape. Loaded with maps, diagrams and parts, it was a slice of Washington—our Capital—during World War I.

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The duodecimo of Shakespeare “gems” has no value, but I have a soft spot for that kind of thing. I flipped it open and was surprised at the image of the dead Falstaff being groped by Mistress Quickly. It’s a pretty naughty scene for an 1825 gift book.

Shakespeare Book

Nay, sure, he’s not in hell! He’s in Arthur’s
bosom, if ever man went to Arthur’s bosom. He
made a finer end, and went away an it had been any
christom child. He parted ev’n just between twelve
and one, ev’n at the turning o’ th’ tide; for after I saw
him fumble with the sheets and play with flowers
and smile upon his finger’s end, I knew there was
but one way, for his nose was as sharp as a pen and
he talked of green fields. ‘How now, Sir John?’
quoth I. ‘What, man, be o’ good cheer!’ So he cried
out ‘God, God, God!’ three or four times. Now I, to
comfort him, bid him he should not think of God; I
hoped there was no need to trouble himself with
any such thoughts yet. So he bade me lay more
clothes on his feet. I put my hand into the bed and
felt them, and they were as cold as any stone. Then I
felt to his knees, and so upward and upward, and
all was as cold as any stone.

—Mistress Quickly—Henry V

And then there was a Frankenbook. That’s a term I give to 19th century books that have been repaired by heavy suturing.


I see them fairly often. Our ancestors were frugal, and books were valuable enough to repair. I remember my mom—a child of the Great Depression—actually darned my old socks into high school. We weren’t poor. I think she just did it out of habit.

The proper term that I believe was coined not long ago is “vernacular binding.” This can apply to not only homemade repairs but also any rather rustic binding creation.

The little vellum thing is cute, but I didn’t have time to parse out the long Latin title page. 1661. “for the Prince of Florence…”

I won’t get my hopes up. It is in great shape though.

A friend at work said: “I read your blog, and I have a present for you.”

I was a bit nonplussed but accepted the little white box wrapped with blue ribbon. I never know if I should unwrap things immediately or take them away and wait.

Of course, I don’t get much practice at gift receiving.

I opened it right there.

Hair Bands

Hair bands!

I laughed aloud.

It is 2020 and the COVID Era.

It is ok for a woman to give a guy things, so he can put his hair up!

Who knows, maybe I’ll learn how to braid it at some point?

Thursday ended on a positive note. I wasn’t expecting that. Things at work and home and in this mad, mad world have not been great lately.

Book sales continue to be strong. People are especially interested in the collectibles we have been pushing onto our online inventory. I don’t know if we are listing them differently—so they are more findable or if some other strategy we implemented is working. Most sold books whose prices end in 95 or 99 get set aside in the shipping area for my inspection. The volume I need to review has increased dramatically. It is anecdotal in the vast sea of books we send all over the world every day, but it is feedback. I am sometimes very surprised at what is going out. Book club mystery novels, for example. I think—or thought—I had a good grasp at who sells well and who is forgotten. I’m learning more and more that there is a demand for many obscure authors. Maybe they are being rediscovered?

I showed Caryn—a top sorter and evaluator, who is responsible for a large portion of the books sent to the stores—some examples.

I never dreamed of putting Detective Book Club editions online. These books always went “somewhere else.” Thinking outside the box, I put some online. They sold. Now we will expand the experiment and add a lot of them.

They were very tough to sell in the stores in the old days. Even for a dollar. They appear abridged but are not. Maybe that was part of the problem. But each book contains three complete mysteries. Usually two of the authors are very obscure and the third a more mainstream author.

It just so happened Caryn had a few boxes at her station. She had been planning on sending them to Books by the Foot where they would likely get pulped. They aren’t very attractive.

They are ugly.

Detective Book Clubs

That should be a good sample to test their viability.

“I also found this,” she told me.

Harry's Bar

“Harry’s Bar!” I exclaimed. The happy memories of last year’s sojourn to Rome flooded back. It merited two stories here. Veni, Vidi… Roma Part 1 and Veni, Vidi… Roma Part 2.

I ate and drank almost every night there. The food, cocktails, ambience, history, bartenders’ conversation…were wonderful.

Each evening, I steeped myself with visions of some of the great writers and other luminaries who frequented the place walking backs from the sights. The place was on my way back from the downtown Roman sites to the hotel which was about mile out.

The Martini’s and other cocktails aided in my steeping.

Then Larry texted he was arriving with a load at 4:30. That’s when I usually leave. I often grumble to him.

“Why do you always come at closing?”

But he’s been a great scout and has rescued some wonderful books and “things.”

We need the books. We are getting fewer and fewer from the stores. Especially Gaithersburg. People are hunkering down.

But it is the “stuff” he brings sometimes that creates invigorating diversions.

I walked out to Dock 1 and pushed the button for the door to rise.

Waiting for him to unload, I had time to kill, so I poured myself a little neat Scotch and waited for his text that he was finished unloading. After all, I was “off the clock.”

When I walked back across the building, he surprised me with 2 bottles of “Champagne.” (To be called Champagne, it must come from that part of France. These weren’t. They were “American Champagne.”)

And two tubs of Britain’s and other fancy lead soldiers.

Lead Soldiers

I went through a phase 20 some years ago collecting die cast figures. I was reliving my youth when I only got a single soldier from time to time (and I usually broke them.) I have many armies. I’d sort of outgrown the mania. But these excited me.

A couple nice “museum shop” Egyptian bookends.

He also had a few Ronald Reagan vintage movie posters.

Ronald Reagan Posters

I went home feeling a little more inspired.

Earlier in the week, I worked with Annika on the “One of a Kind at The Boutique” experiment on the Books by the Foot site.

I’m finding it is a way to find homes for pretty books that would otherwise not sell.

A problem was the time it took to upload the images and descriptions.

We did 20 earlier in the week, and it took about 6 hours. After some meetings and tweaking, the second batch of 10 only took about 2 hours!

There are some pretty gifts there…hint, hint.

And on the mountain, Tim appeared! He surprised me by bringing huge loads of mulch and a Bobcat tractor.

He is putting more stone terraces in!

Three of them!

I bought the pallets of stone two years ago, and he just hasn’t had time to get around to it.

These will stone walls #13,#14 and #15, I think.

I will have more places to put woodland plants and flower bulbs in.

I need the work.

I’m not going anywhere for a long, long time. America’s Doctor reported a few weeks ago that things will be better soon if we just keep masking. Then he said after April the effects of the WarpSpeed injections should start changing things.

THEN he said 12-18 months.

I don’t know what kind of shape I’ll be in if this goes on for another year or more. Mentally or physically.

Saint Anthony. I’m glad he’s on the team.

6 Comments on Article

  1. Andy Moursund commented on

    The 147 photographs in the back of that “Public Buildings of the District of Columbia Book” are a gold mine of Washingtoniana. They give you a feel for what the Washington of the First World War years looked liked in reality better than any other such collection of photos from that period I know of. If I didn’t have a nice copy already I’d snap it up in a second.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Andy.
      It was a nice surprise!
      Great to hear from you!

  2. Kathleen Arnold commented on

    You need Theodor Adorno in your Philosophy: Every work of art is an uncommitted crime.

    I’ve been gnawing through his Introduction to Sociology. (He had me at “hotel gravy.”)

    Speak to us of the terriers! 3 months till spring.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Wow! I doubt we have much of his work in work in open stock at the stores. Certainly not enough to merit culling.
      The dogs are a constant joy. They “helped” all weekend at the warehouse.
      Spring seems so far away. It isn’t even winter yet. Snow here on Wednesday.

      The struggle of life is one of our greatest blessings. It makes us patient, sensitive, and Godlike. It teaches us that although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.
      – Helen Keller

      Maybe that is what this is all about?
      Thank you reading and writing – and sending me in search of Arorno.

      1. Thomas Wixon replied on

        The greatest influence in writing was G. K. Chesterton who never used a useless word, who saw the value of a paradox, and avoided what was trite.
        Fulton J. Sheen
        You may enjoy both Chesterton & Sheen
        Ciao for Niao,

        1. Charles Roberts replied on

          Thanks Tommy.
          I appreciate the info

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