No More Masks

1480 Bookplate Facsimile

Here are the results for a keyword search on our Collector’s Corner for masks:

It’s OVER!

No More Masks

This will be the LAST “Bookselling in the COVID Era” post! In March 2020, I thought these posts might last some weeks. 15 months later…

Some nasty stuff reminds me of those early days. On March 23, 2020, the Governor ordered everything to shut down. We were given about 5 hours’ notice. There were stay-at-home orders. I was concerned driving in to check on the warehouse. When it was confirmed by multiple Maryland government officials we were “Essential”—as a “warehouse/distribution facility”*—employees who wanted (or needed—for mental health reasons) to work came back. They needed vouchers to keep in their cars with them stating they were “essential workers” in case they got pulled over. Remember the terror? They were all given bonus pay. As much as 100% bonus, if memory serves. Those who did not want to come in for any reason were paid in full. This was before PPP. We did this from cash reserves. My recollection is that lasted 2 biweekly payrolls. I didn’t know how long the money would last. The following 6 payrolls were covered by PPP, and every dollar was used according to the rules.

* In our 3-acre warehouse, we bring in and ship out thousands of tons of paper and other materials every month. We reinsert tons of paper and corrugated recycling into the supply cycle each week. We keep not only books out of the landfills but bulk paper as well.

I can’t recall exactly when the feeling we were going to survive let me pause a moment. I probably wrote it in one of these stories.

Last Friday, May 14th, 2021 in the afternoon, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced that vaccinated people could go maskless everywhere (except healthcare facilities, schools and public transportation) “tomorrow.”

We had no notice. That evening we had to struggle with wording for policies and signs for employees and customers at the three retail stores for Saturday morning’s openings. Texts after texts after texts were exchanged.

We exchanged news stories: Costco, Walmart, Starbucks…all were going maskless.

Surely they know what they are doing.

Finally, Saturday morning we had consensus and signs were sent to the three stores to post.

In essence they read:

If you’ve been fully vaccinated for over two weeks, you have the option to go maskless inside our store.

If you haven’t been vaccinated, please continue to wear masks.

Employees have the same option but are encouraged to continue wearing masks until we get more guidance.

I went and opened the warehouse on Saturday morning. There were three others in the three-acre building.

“Wear a mask if you want. I’m vaccinated, and I’m not going to.”

(We are rarely within a hundred feet of each other.)

It was such a pleasure to breathe freely all weekend!

I put my old cloth masks—make of kilt material—in a garden and covered them with mulch. There they would help keep weeds down.

Mask Graveyard

I performed a “mask burial” and now have a little “mask graveyard” to help keep down the invasive Stilt Grass on a dirt lane.

These were the first masks we had gotten at the beginning of the year of terror. (Remember how hard it was to find masks?) The bands on them had long ago lost elasticity. So, it was no big sacrifice to bury them.

I have a box of about 75 new paper ones left.

On Monday morning when I walked into the warehouse, everyone was wearing masks?!

Our county and the county southeast of us were not quite ready to go along with Governor Hogan.


I went out to my truck and got a paper mask off the dashboard.


But the buzz was Frederick would comply within a day or so.

Maskless at last!

Not so fast…

A manager reached out to our payroll and HR provider who deal with hundreds of employers. Surely they would know the deal.

This is what we got from them:

Although the CDC has updated the masking rules, OSHA has not, so our payroll/HR company recommends waiting to change anything for employees until they do. Even with the updated masking guidelines from the CDC & Maryland, private companies have the right to require masking.

We can ask vaccination status, but they didn’t recommend it one way or the other. However, if we do, we can’t ask any follow up questions, and we would need to keep any records for 30 years.

If we decide to remove masks, they recommend not treating employees differently based on vaccination status (i.e. requiring non-vaccinated to wear masks) because that would could as discrimination and violate ADA.

So, the Kabuki show continues. Now, mostly for liability and personal feelings reasons.

“Damn! I hate my mask!”

It is Thursday night.

We are still in limbo.

I stopped at Lowes on the way home for mulch. All their employees were wearing masks. Of about 25 customers I passed, only two were maskless.

“Damn! Let me go!!!”

No More Masks

Last weekend, I was in a zone.

I plowed through so many carts.

I even had the high-school kid who comes in weekends cart up two pallets of the Ashburn house call. They have been airing out for over two-and-a-half years now. They no longer smell of mothballs.

Naturally the two I went to first were not the thrillers with the Beat literature and 8 feet of Wodehouse in dust jacket. They were from the collector’s vast cookbook section. It was interesting, as nothing was newer than the 70s. There were a lot of exotic (mostly French) chef memoirs. I enjoyed checking the “good” ones to see if they were firsts or signed.

I had never seen The Myra Breckinridge Cookbook before!

Cart after cart after cart.

I even did the 3 “communist” carts I’d been avoiding for…several years. Most were not in English. Rebellions on every continent except Antarctica were represented. There was a lot of unusual material. There were even several volumes of Enver Hoxha‘s works. Believe it or not, I knew who he was. I was a geography junkie when I was a kid. Albania intrigued me because no one was allowed to go there. It was right there on map—across the Adriatic from Italy, but it was a closed country.

I guessed at prices. (Educated guesses.) It would take weeks to research all that cra…material.

Communist Cart Notes

It was interesting work since much of the stuff I had never seen before. (THAT is unusual as I have handled millions of books since 1980.) It was tedious since it was just so…tedious. They made my brain hurt.

I put warning sheets on those carts cautioning the adders to be sure to include Keywords like: “Communism” and “Socialism” where appropriate. Some were impossibly obscure and could never be found without that kind of link.

Communist Cart Notes

I don’t think they’ve all been added as of this Friday. But here’s a link to our “Collector’s Corner” for communism. And a second one for socialism.

Check back periodically. There are plenty more on the way.

It was a couple hours of historical immersion. I learned a lot. But what a price.

The weekend was ending, and as the afternoon was turning toward evening on Sunday, I came across this scrapbook entitled:

Book Plates

When I opened it…wow.

Over 100 19th century and older bookplates were neatly tipped into it.

It included the earliest known bookplate from 1480.

1480 Bookplate Facsimile

Well, a facsimile of it. But a 19th century letterpress facsimile! …LOL.

I enjoyed flipping through page after page of the little artworks.

This may be my favorite.

Druckemiller and Tavern

What is it with book people and booze?

That’s more my speed. Fine printing. Fine paper. Fine artwork. And fine book loving sentiments.

I also found this weighty looking tome.

Fly Book

When I opened it, I discovered it was filled with flies!

Fly Book

I also did more of the books from the William Safire Collection.

His books continue to surprise me.

There were even some books on one of my favorite subjects:


Francis Bacon Set

I met some friends for dinner at one of Frederick’s finest restaurants.

Our first maskless meal?

The greeter was standing at a lectern outside. Maskless.

“Do I need a mask inside?”


‘Yippee!’ I thought.

I entered the dark moody restaurant barefaced. A buddy was already seated.

Looking around, NO ONE was wearing a mask! No diner, waiter, buser, bartender…


The week began with me finishing the newest installment of stories about the hapless bookseller and his weird bookshop. (They advise: “Write what you know.”) Round and Round 29. I’d begun it in March. It has been a busy spring.

I pecked away at it early Monday morning in bed. I sent it off to my editor.

Yes, the bookseller’s ace book researcher and cataloger is featured. The fact that Mathilda is a cat doesn’t seem to faze the bookseller any longer.

I guess he has seen everything.

Here’s the link:

The week flew by.

Meeting after meeting after meeting.

This business stuff makes my brain hurt too.

We had to meet and make decisions about the new Books by the Foot website.

I think it will be beautiful.

I’ll show you when the time comes.

We met about the numbers at the stores.

Sometimes I just feel the need to do “something.” Change.

Two huge glass cases arrived.

New Glass Cases

They’d been on order for a couple months. I’d asked to have their status checked earlier in the day.


We went over to the Frederick store to freshen our memory of where we were going to put the behemoths.

I looked around. I wanted to move things. Change things. Expand things. Contract things. Shake things up.

I got into debates.

Does this category have too much space? Should we expand this?

But we were just guessing.

“Ok. Can we figure out how many dollars per linear foot of shelving categories like LPs, CDs, DVD sales, DVD rentals…actually earn?”


The next day Clark had done his magic. He handed me a spreadsheet and explained it. Some of my suspicions were confirmed. There were some surprises.

Joey—my son who manages that store came over, and we three went over the data.

The “catalog” rentals were only earning 52 cents a foot. Top title rentals (new releases) were down to $3.81. Those had been about $10 pre-COVID. Hollywood hasn’t released much in the past year. DVD sales and CDs were pretty strong. LPs were booming! $6.82 per foot! Our collectible books in the glass cases were by far the strongest book section.

Now…what to do about it all?

When we went back the next day with the two enormous cases (they weigh over 500 pounds each), while I was waiting for them to have the wooden crating pried off, I looked around my store. This place was my life for many years—before internet bookselling swept me away.

In the glory days, we often had dozens of customers browsing our 20,000 plus DVDs (and, prior, VHS) on weekends and evenings.

Rentals have been in decline for a number if years. COVID really smacked them in 2020 and 2021.

Part of me wanted to eliminate them.

I had debates with people who wanted to let them linger on.

Walking through those aisles—a section I seldom venture into any longer—I remembered I had designed the rental section of the store to have very wide aisles to accommodate all those warm bodies. About 5 feet wide…

Now that the rentals are in eclipse we don’t have nearly as many people in at one time in that section of the store anymore…that section is about 30% of the entire store!

We can shrink those aisles—to code—and put in more aisles!

We can expand everything! Everything!! And not eliminate anything!

‘Yippee!!’ I thought.

The excitement of change and progress got me motivated.

I’d never abandoned the stores when they were in internet induced decline. They were NEEDED—even if they were losing money. That was how we got books to feed the part of the company that was experiencing growth. We had become global booksellers on the world wide web.

It was time to go back to my roots—to pay some attention to THIS part of the flagship store.

It is Friday morning. 72 degrees inside. 61 out. A bright spring morning.

The gardens have been stunning. There are STILL daffodils coming out.

Memo to self—’plant more pheasant eye.’

Pheasant Eye

Last night, I unloaded another 30 bags of mulch. Most of the woodland garden is weed free. The fern brakes of hay-scented fern take care of themselves. They emit—something—that suppresses the growth of most other plants in their spaces. The shady woodland keeps down most problems as well. But I’ll have to get on my knees and pull out the Virginia creeper from the problem areas. That stuff stinks too.

I found and erected two standing stones this week.

Standing Stones

Must be my Welsh druid roots…

Round and Round Part 29

Old Ledger

The man rose!

But for all his imposing appearance, he was only 51 inches tall!

The vast spread of his gownish cloak fell closer to his sides as he rose. But even then, it became obvious he was also 51 inches wide!

He was indeed a mound of a man. A round mound.

A small large round mound.

Click for the rest of the tale…

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