The Daedalus of Greek mythology was a mechanical, architectural and engineering genius on the scale of Leonardo da Vinci. But da Vinci was “real.” There are differing versions of what follows, but the short story of Daedalus is in a fit of creative competition jealousy he threw his nephew, Talos, off the Acropolis. He was banished from Athens to Crete for that deed. In Crete he befriends its king, Minos, and continues to invent and build things. Then he helped the Queen and as a byproduct facilitated the creation of the Minotaur. That is a bit of a kinky story. He then designs and builds the Labyrinth—the maze—to contain the murderous beast. Human sacrifices are periodically sent into the maze to keep the half-man half-bull satiated. One of those chosen was the hero Theseus, and he chose not to be a victim.
The King’s daughter, Ariadne, falls in love with Theseus and convinces Daedalus to to help save Theseus. (And you think you have family problems.) Daedalus helps Theseus kill the Minotaur. Theseus and Ariadne run away. King Minos is displeased (about the daughter, the queen or the beast?) and locks Daedalus and his son Icarus in a tower. There is no possible escape by land or sea, so Daedalus invents wings for himself and his son so they can escape by air. Daedalus devises wings from twine and feathers and wax. The wings work! Daedalus advises Icarus to not fly too high or the sun’s heat will melt the wax. Kids never listen. Icarus flies too high, falls into the sea and dies. Daedalus had other adventures as well—here’s more than you’ll ever want to know about the mythical Daedalus: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daedalus
This story is about the mythic Daedalus Books. It is much more modern and, I hope, is mostly factually correct.
There’s a great deal of genius in this story as well.
I started buying remainder books* in the early 1980s. I think John Adams was the first to sell them to me. In those days book reps would scour their “territory” for new accounts. There were thousands of independent bookstores all over the country. Sales reps would be assigned a region of the US. They were responsible for all accounts and potential accounts in that region. They were salaried but most also got commissions on sales and landing new accounts. The best reps would find not only bookstores but they would try to establish footholds in other retailing venues as well. Gift shops, card shops, museum shops…And John was the best I ever dealt with. He had discovered the little Book Alcove and I recall meeting with him, my mentor and silent partner, Carl Sickles and Carl’s two wacky sons—Ray and John. Each of us at that time had our own “Book Alcove” store. I had Frederick (until 1983—when I bought Carl out, expanded and renamed the store Wonder Book.) Carl and Eleanor Sickles ran Gaithersburg (Eleanor founded it in 1975 as Bookmark of Gaithersburg. That same location is currently Wonder Book—Gaithersburg.) Ray was in Loehmann’s Plaza in Rockville. John Sickles had a short-lived shop in Reston, Virginia. Ray & John were compulsive bad joke tellers—both with booming voices that made the little back room at Gaithersburg feel like I was inside a bass drum. The 5 of us sat around a small round wooden table while John Adams tried to take 5 different orders at once—with constant outbursts and interruptions.
* Remainders: Printed books liquidated by the publisher at greatly reduced prices because they are no longer selling well or wanted off the docks for space reasons. Or off the “books” for tax reasons.
John repped for Outlet Book Company, a division of Random House at the time. It was likely the largest remainder and promotional book firm of the era. He had illustrated catalogs for each of us. We would go through listing by listing by listing. There would be an image of the book’s front cover, a brief synopsis and the price. (e.g. “Originally $24.95 now $4.98 suggested retail. Your cost $2.49.”) We’d each decide if our store wanted any copies. These meetings went slow as Ray or John Sickles would find something comment or quip worthy in nearly every title—they’d go off on some tangent. Some books would remind one of them of a joke or a movie quote or … “Ho, ho ho!!!” The process would stop while a sometimes lengthy and rarely humorous joke would be recited. What’s the opposite of “sotto voce”? FORTE! Regardless of the merit of the quip or joke John and Ray would roar with laughter their booming voices making my poor brain hurt. Carl would look at his adult kids and, smiling, shake his head: “Those boys…he, he.”
I’d look over at John and he’d wink knowingly.
We actually ordered books. “I’ll take 3.” “2.” “5 please.” “I’ll pass.”
John would record the numbers on his forms and we’d move on to the next title—as soon as the din died down.
He still is a great book salesman. He moved up to selling new publications at Random House and is now a top national sales rep for Penguin/Random House / Knopf… He no longer schlepps to little hole in the wall bookshops. Good thing. There aren’t that many left. Instead he jets out to Costco, Sam’s Club, BJs and all the top national distributors…
He’s no longer writing them in pencil. He’s no longer taking orders of 2s, 3s, and 5s—but hundreds and thousands and on big hits hundreds of thousands.
We’ve become good buddies and although he hasn’t sold me any books for a couple decades, we get together pretty often for golf and beers and conversation. He is a brilliant book rep. He has an uncanny “feel” for books that will be come hits.
“Here’s a copy of All the Pretty Horses. You should read it. Cormac McCarthy will breakthrough with this one.”
“The Da Vinci Code is going to sell millions. Not really my thing, but I bet it gets reprinted 50 times.”
That book went on to become one the bestselling books of all time. Over 80 million copies!
“You gotta read this Swedish crime thriller! The author died, but he wrote 3 of them. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo will be big!”
Ken Burns? I bet he knew Burns would be a perennial hit before Ken did.
Other remainder reps would call on us. And when I was on my own, they’d come to Frederick and we’d sit in my little office. They began bringing bulging brief cases full of dust jackets or the entire cover removed from a softcover. That way they could show me 300-500 “books” without having to schlep all the weight. It was better for me too as I could get a better feel for the books’ dimensions and cover graphics. You could sense the books’ thickness from the dust jackets spine. Publishers put a great deal of thought and investment in books cover graphics. And although you can’t tell a book from it cover a beautifully or intriguingly dressed book can be much easier to sell than one with dull or boring graphics.
I especially looked forward to John Adams’ calls. He’d insist on taking me out for some great meal and beers after our work was done. Expense accounts were gracious back then.
One visit he asked:
“You going to ABA*?”
* ABA = America Bookseller’s Association Convention
“Sure! There are dozens of remainder dealers there. You get see the actual book and a lot of them offer show specials—additional discounts—for books ordered at the show. Plus they are a lot of fun and you get lots of free books! I’ll be there and we can get some beers after.” (familiar theme here?)
“Maybe I should. But NYC intimidates me.”
“Aww, you’re a big boy. You can handle it.”
I’d gone to a few ABA shows. In the early 80s some were held in Washington DC and I could drive down. But I was very shy—still am in many ways—and would never go into booths where I was unknown. I figured they wouldn’t want to be bothered by a tiny account like mine. The ABA shows started bouncing around to different cities. Chicago, LA, Miami and, of course, the Javits Center in NYC.
“Yer writin’ rampant again. Is this a novel yer creating?”
Ah, my book muse back again here to keep me between the lines—as it were.
“Am I rambling?”
“More like writin’ in 4 directions at once! Yer not composing some scholarly Oxford bibliographic essay.”
“Ok. Ok! I get it. Clearly.”
“You goin’ to expound on yer first puppy and his influence on yer life in books?”
“Haha. It was a her. And nope. I’ll rein it in. Thank you very much. I was just trying to set the stage…lay a foundation.”
“You’ve set it and laid it! Now on with the story please. Soon my foot will be tappin’ in frustration and you don’t want that sound echoing in yer cranium.”
Back to the story—and I promise I’ll get to Daedalus quickly!
Just a leeetle more…ummm…stage setting.
So, I started to going to shows and buying regularly. Someday I’ll write a full story on the wonders of the ABA and BEA book shows—as well as Cirobe (Chicago) and Ciana (London)…
Why did I buy so many remainders in the pre-internet days?
A couple reasons:
1. Primarily it was to fill holes. In those days the competition for certain genres was fierce. (The demand was as well!) For example, we couldn’t generate enough Civil War books to meet demand via over the counter buys (books brought to our shops for us to buy by the public) or via house calls. When I used to attend auctions Civil War books brought astronomical prices.
2. Some deals on individual titles were irresistible. If I could pick up Stephen King hardcovers in new condition for a couple bucks they’d resell quickly for a good markup. If some of them were first editions…Home Run!…in those heady days of the “Hyper Modern Boom.”
So, I would go to a remainder house’s booth and figure out how to buy from them. Often it was simply a matter of picking up sample copies of books and finding a table and making a “pile.”
Others had mostly bins of dust jackets or covers to flip through. Each book or jacket had the original retail price and their reduced “suggested retail” printed or written on a sticker and affixed to the front of the book or jacket. Almost always the wholesale price was 50% of that suggested retail.
When I was done pulling titles, I’d find a sales person and we would sit down across from one another at the table. He or she would take the top book and hold it facing me.
The order would be ticked off on an order form—or more likely in the early days—written long hand on lined order forms.
Soon a rhythm would evolve and there would be almost no words exchanged.
“5, 2, 10, 20, 5…”
Well I can see there will have to be a future generic Remainder blog.
Back to Daedalus…
I likely ordered from their mail-order catalog initially. They were located nearby—just outside of DC. I never would have dreamed of visiting them. Their catalogs were luscious. I often could not resist buying some titles for my own collection. How did they find such wonderful stuff? I think there were times I would order almost everything they offered. No clunkers. No obscure no-name fiction. No Kitten, Puppy or Horse books. No crappy “Promotional” books*. All their stock was cool or important or beautiful or all those things in one. They seemed to have their finger on the pulse of the past, present and future.
* “Promotional” books are usually glossy inexpensively bound books created to sell “new” at a low price point. They are sometimes reprints of out of print trade editions. These are often seen on “Special Offer” tables and bins in grocery stores and other non-bookstores.
Another Hypermodern legend of those days was that Daedalus would let modern first edition dealers visit their old warehouse in Prince George’s county. They’d root through currently “hot” fiction authors’ remainders and pull valuable “firsts.” That got stopped when too many books got dinged by the extra handling. Daedalus would only ship perfect copies and any slight imperfection meant the book had to be set aside and offered as “hurt”—at a greatly reduced price.
One day, I’m guessing in the late 80s or early 90s, I got a call and a Daedalus sales rep asked if he could come by and show me their current inventory.
Was I worthy? Had I ordered enough remotely via catalog to reach the tipping point that they would send someone to call on me? Guess so.
Earl arrived one day. He was a tall thin African American. He had a big briefcase stuffed with dust jackets in each hand. He sat in an armchair across from me in my tiny office. I recall him wearing stylish subtle green slacks, green shirt and a green silk tie. All in different muted tones. He folded his long legs, leaned back and pulled out a file folder of jackets. His fingers were incredibly long—like a pianist’s. Some people seem to exude an aura of erudition. Earl was one of those.
“Would you like to start with history?”
He handed the folder over and poised a pen over the border form. I opened the file and looked at jacket after jacket.
“5, 10, 2, 4—”
“Umm, I think you’ll want more of those. It was a runner up on the National Book Awards, and I’m pretty sure PBS is going to do something with it.”
“Oh! Ok. 10?”
We’d move on to folder after folder. Literature, Science, Art and Architecture, Kids…
“4, 12, 8, 10, 8—”
“Umm, I think you should pass on this one. The ending is really depressing. I wouldn’t give it to my nieces or nephews.”
“Oh! Ok. I’ll pass then.”
He’d then unfold his long frame and went out to his car to bring a couple more satchels of jackets in. And then we were done. Fast paced but not rushed. Efficient. Earl headed out to his next account. I went up front to check on the store and maybe ring up some sales. Booksellers will tell you that selling books is great fun but buying books is where the passion is.
The Daedalus shipment would arrive, usually within a few days. Fast accurate efficient. The UPS guy would pound on the back door and roll in the 30 or so boxes.
These are some vintage Daeadlus boxes repurposed outside a London bookstore last month.
I’d check them in myself. It was great fun—like opening Christmas presents. I’d slice open the tape sealing the box—careful not to cut into the top book inside. Each book was beautiful and intriguing. I’d tick off the quantity received vs. quantity shipped on the packing that was enclosed. Then I would slap on price stickers on the back bottom right corner using the “pricing gun.”
If I felt some of their “suggested retail prices” were too low for the quality or my intended market for the book I would bump them up a couple dollars to a price still far below the publisher’s price but more realistic for our shop. For remainders were usually ephemeral. If it was a good book at a good price, it was unlikely there would be any left should I try to reorder.
Businesses boomed in the late 80s and 90’s. We expanded to three brick and mortar stores. More publishers appeared, and all publishers seemed anxious to print more and more books. The trade shows became palatial and extravagant. With more publishers and more titles being printed naturally there was more for the remainder houses to acquire and offer. Oh yes, more and more remainder houses opened as well. The American Booksellers Association embraced this symbiotic branch of book commerce and created a large section on the floor layout devoted to remainder booths. I now had enough confidence and knew enough people that I felt comfortable walking into booths and introducing myself. But I would always go to Daedalus first.
Daedalus would typically set up a large booth AWAY from the other reminder dealers. I guess to distinguish themselves. Or maybe they were aiming at a different book buying market? Their booth strategy was to line the perimeter with 8-foot tables. Along the back of each table stood 4-foot folding bookcases. That way they could display thousands of different books facing out to people freely flowing around the outside of their booth—the lookers and browsers. This left the interior open for “business”—the real buyers and sales reps ready to take their orders as fast as possible. One year I recall tracking down Earl and asking if he could write an order.
“Chuck I’m sorry. I have appointments all day. Can you come at four?”
I was a bit stunned but looking around I saw the booth was packed. Robin Moody would bring everyone in the company it seemed to write orders. Accounting, Human Resources, Art Department…and every table had 2, 3 or 4 people seated at it. The Daedalus person writing and the others debating on how many copies to buy. I further noticed many of the buyers were in foreign garb or spoke with accents. Daedalus was global. It made me feel small yet again. Some of these international buyers were ordering hundreds or thousands of copies. Depressed, I wondered if anything good would be left at 4.
Who is Robin Moody? He founded Daedalus in 1980 and had the guiding vision for the company to this day. He bought Kramerbooks’ small wholesale remainder division and began the transformation of the remainder book industry. He moved from a former car repair garage to a “warehouse” across from the DC bus terminal. He bought books with an eye toward quality as well as low price. “Books of lasting interest in the arts and literature” is what he wrote to me recently.
So I made the rounds to other remainder dealers as well as walking the floor and checking out all the glitz of the new publishers and the companies that would offer sidelines. Sidelines could include anything from bookstore supplies to candies and snacks for resale to shippers and international rights brokers.
At 4 I sheepishly returned and started pulling copies from the tables and bookcases and making stacks on a table in the interior. Earl appeared and handed me a stack of Post Its.
“If you could just write the number of copies you want on the Post It and attach it to the book, I can begin writing your order as you continue to pull more titles you want. If I see anything I think you should know about, I’ll put it aside.”
This made perfect sense. It also meant that the sample copies of books he’d recorded for me could quickly be restocked so another buyer could see it.
I wondered how many wonderful books had been sold out before my turn came. There was no way to tell. They kept running inventories during the show and when they sold out their quantity on hand, the sample copy would disappear into a box under a table. Oh well, I’d get an early appointment next year.
The boom continued. It seemed everyone was doing well—stores, publishers, authors, remainders, dealers…
Then storm clouds appeared on the horizon for all the independent stores as Crown Books, Borders and Barnes & Noble began their campaign for super stores and market domination. They’d often open a super store directly across the street from some iconic and historic long lived bookstore. Bobby Haft—who founded Crown with support of his Dad—Herbert. Herbert owned Dart Drug and other chains as well as lots of real estate. Bobby set off to take over the DC book market for himself. Full-page ads appeared on the back page of each Sunday’s Washington Post Book World tabloid. At the top in quotes Haft would be saying “Books Cost Too Much. That’s Why I Founded Crown Books!” Below those words was Bobby seated on a throne made of books. Below that were columns of discounted new books and bestsellers. Traditional booksellers used the bestseller list as their profit center. Crown eviscerated that by discounting the bestseller lists to near cost as door busters to get buyers into their stores. The traditional stores and Mom & Pop independents thought they could survive on their reputations, knowledgeable service and broad backlists of books to sell. The early Crowns would fill their stores with remainders and promotional books and only the most popular (and easiest to sell) full price new books. Even those were discounted a bit. The bestsellers were usually at the back of the store so customers would have to walk the gauntlet of what Crown was really making money on to get to them.
Then as the 90s evolved the concept for the Book Superstore became the “big box” concept that drew speculative investors to buy stock in the national chains’ expansion and attempt for market dominance. These companies ceased to become “booksellers” in the traditional sense. And in the big picture they weren’t selling books as much as they were selling stock in their book companies’ growth in market share.
“Too much history…” my muse intones.
“I know. Almost done.”
All this was great for remainder dealers. The publishing boom meant there were more excess books to sell. The boom in big box stores meant there were more bookstores that wanted their remainder and promotional tables stacked high.
Daedalus rode this wave exceedingly well. Why? They were simply the best. Robin’s guiding philosophy from the start was that remainders were not just picture books of Kittens and Puppies or glossy superficial coffee table picture books of Nazis or Civil War battles. Instead true remainders, at their best, were not “the books that publishers couldn’t sell” but could simply be the excess print run of a great book that the publisher wanted to get off their inventory books and off their docks to make room for new productions. Robin’s concept was to sharpshoot the best remainder literature, history, art, architecture… and offer it to enhance booksellers’ breadth of quality inventory while at the same having those books be bargains drawing in more customers. He with his partners Helaine Harris and Tamara (Tamie) Stock (who became his wife) achieved this vision consistently through their founding in 1980 through 2018.
Around 1997 or 98 they moved their operation to a huge warehouse in Columbia. At some point I went out to visit and was astounded. It was huge. The building stretched on forever and had a 30-foot ceiling. I lifted a telephone receiver outside the corporate entrance and was buzzed in. I climbed the steps to the offices and Robin greeted me. He gave me a tour of the offices. A number of pet dogs roamed about. Upper management were allowed to bring their pets?! There was laidback air upstairs—but the underlying theme of passion for good books was palpable. They had a large “sample” room lined with books. Everyone was encouraged to offer input on potential inventory. If they knew something good (or bad) about a title, their voice was part of the buying process. Groovy. He showed me the glassed-in climate-controlled computer room. Miles of color-coded wires looped and stretched throughout. Banks of computers with blinking links lined a wall floor to ceiling. All so very high tech (for 1997.) He led me to his office window where I could out onto the warehouse floor from above. The warehouse floor was pure business. But even the pickers and packers seemed to work with a sense of mission. Over the next two decades, Robin oversaw millions of books come and go from that window.
On the floor, the place wasn’t a bumpy grungy bookseller warehouse. It was a hive of industry. Pallet racking rose like skyscrapers loaded with books. Forklifts and cherry picker lifts zipped around the “streets” in this city of books. Their shipping system was a long curved conveyor. At a certain point the packages would be scanned and the conveyor would know just when to push that package down a branch conveyor so it would be shipped appropriately per the customer order. A dozen or more loading docks had trucks backed up to them—taking stuff away or bringing it in.
He took me down and to the warehouse floor and gave me a tour. The place was full of employees. Robin tells me they had up to 170 at one time. We walked along and between long rows of towering pallet racks. It was like being in a deep canyon. At the end of many aisles there were bins of books stacked.
“Those are hurts. You want ’em for a buck apiece?”
Daedalus would not ship a book if it wasn’t perfect. If there was bumped corner or nicked dust jacket it got put aside.
“A dollar? For those? Sure! I’ll take them all.”
After all, I was mostly a used bookstore and almost all my stock showed some wear.
He then led me to wholesale show room that was a smaller version of their show booth. He turned me over to a rep and thanked me for coming.
I was in awe. Robin Moody had given me a personal tour of his high tech operation. I dreamed. Could I do this someday with used books?
I made my stacks and either Paul or Cheryl wrote my order.
Robin had also put a remainder bookstore at the front of the building where he could sell his own and other, select, remainders to the public.
The store was simply delicious. Every book in there was curated for quality and appeal. And everything was 50% off retail or more.
About 10 years ago, Conor Kenny of the legendary Kenny’s Books in Galway, Ireland was visiting. I took him to Daedalus to see their offerings. He ordered some wholesale titles, but when we went inside to the “retail” store, he was so impressed with the history section selection, he bought them. ALL of them. It was a whole wall of books if memory serves. Maybe 15 floor-to-ceiling bookcases with hundreds of different titles packed onto them.
Did I stop there and shop for myself? You bet! Every time.
Daedalus would also bring in exotic books sometimes. Specialty presses, limited editions, book art productions—if they thought the quality and audience was there. Did I buy some of those for myself? Yep! Including the elephant folio facsimile below. I’ll never own the originals. (That’s a “little me” with my dad on the left.)
Then 1997 happened. At least it happened at Wonder Book. I was convinced after much doubt and foot dragging to put a seed stock of 40 books up for sale on the “computer” i.e. The Internet. The very first book we sold was the proverbial “light that became lit above my head”. (read about it here)
Nobody—not the big boxes, not the remaining independents, not the publishers—no one had an inkling as to what was coming at us. Well, maybe Jeff Bezos had an inkling.
Well, this has become a much bigger and more complicated story than I envisioned. I’ll wrap this up with the Daedalus story from the incursion of the internet to today.
If you’d like me to write a future story about remainders and booksellers and the internet—let me know.
So the big boxes of B&N and Borders killed off the independents (as well as Crown Books who had internal and conceptual problems). Crown Books was the 400 pound gorilla that conquered the DC region. B&N and Borders were each 800 pound gorillas.
At first they were a boon for remainders sellers. They bought deep and broad for all their giant stores.
They then made some big mistakes. The got short-sighted, corporate and greedy. They started buying remainders directly—bypassing people like Daedalus. This was short-sighted and greedy as much of their management and philosophy had shifted from “book” oriented to purely profit oriented. The coffee bars, the toys, the gift junk meant fewer books. But worst of all the “book” upper management was replaced by bean counter management. Grocery execs were brought in—I suppose many of them thought a “book was a book.” The in-house remainder people might have also suffered from lack of experience in remainder dynamics.
So as the remainder companies were sometimes now being bypassed by the only real clients left anymore, the internet began changing the dynamics of book buying and selling.
Everyone was becoming an internet bookseller. From John Doe selling his own collection in his basement to guys with no book experience becoming instant book “experts” by mimicking how established booksellers were listing their books online—only may be a little cheaper cuz they were selling their yard sale finds out of their garages with no overhead.
Little devices came on the market called Neato Scanners.
They looked a little like a Star Trek phaser. You’d just aim the device at a barcode on any book and the Amazon price and sales ranking would come up instantly. You could program your own parameters into it. If your programming thought the book was a good deal, the Scanner would make a “ka-ching!” sound. “A winner! I’ll buy that!” If it was a dud, the scanner made “ka-chunk” sound. “Pass.”
Anyone now could be an instant expert on modern barcoded books. Anywhere. These guys would show up at yard sales and charity sales and bookstores and cherry pick the best money makers in only seconds per book.
Then they hit the remainder companies. Some banned the Scanners. Some embraced them.
The internet became so inundated with newbie booksellers and millions of nearly identical books that the market became flooded. Prices crashed. It was pure Machiavellian “Supply & Demand.”
Booksellers like Wonder Book were fortunate to be on both sides. Therefore with some amazing people internally our internet sales boomed. But it seemed no matter what we did, our brick and mortar sales began an extended nosedive. People began selling books for pennies on Amazon. Bookstores couldn’t go that low. We started getting frequent calls from regional bookstores asking us to buy them out. A symbiotic relationship evolved between our stores and our warehouse. We needed the bookstores to provide books for online inventory.
I continued buying remainders. Early on they would often do well online. I thought I was pretty smart. I had nearly 20 years experience. I knew what sells—high and low.
Then at one Cirobe in the early 2000s, I bought heavy for the internet. A lot of remainder houses were in trouble and were closing good books out a $1.
“I’ll take a hundred of those.”
I tried to corner the market on some titles that sold well online. One was The Egyptian Jukebox by Nick Bantock. We sold a couple every day it seemed—for $5-10. I knew the remainder house that had all the remaining stock. About 5000 books.
“I’ll take them all for a quarter apiece.”
…We still have thousands. The secondary market had started supplying its own copies for pennies.
My instincts no longer meant anything. I slowed and then virtually stopped buying remainders for the stores. The stores were breaking even at best. I couldn’t afford to stock them with remainders.
Soon the prices crashed so low that the wholesale price of many remainders was higher than the “retail” price on ABE or Amazon.
I’d bring home books from the shows I’d bought deep at a dollar—sure they were winners.
“Chuck, there are over 50 copies online already UNDER a dollar,” I was told by Clark.
I learned my lesson. I virtually stopped buying even dollar remainders and rarely went to the trade shows. Plus I was too busy selling used books online.
I’d still keep in touch with Robin. They are smart people. Smart about books and business.
They found niches. They expanded their already strong international business. They got into DVDs and CDs and stationery and greeting cards while still getting a lot of the best remainders out there. Their in-house retail catalog division continued selling mail—order remainders to individuals—many of whom were devoted followers.
In 2006, The Washington Post ran a glowing feature on them: “Remainders Of the Day”
(I didn’t recall the title of the article until I saw it just now. So my “punny” title of this story was not stolen—I don’t think—unless it was a subliminal memory from 12 years ago…)
Then all hell broke loose! The Kindle was invented. THE PRINTED BOOK IS DOOMED!!!
I never felt that way and as of 2018 the printed books is still being printed and sold in ever-increasing numbers annually. Was I a little antsy about people reading ALL their books on a little plastic slab? Yep. But in my heart, I Believed in the “Book.”
Borders went bankrupt in 2011—largely due to upper management’s short sightedness and incompetence.
Now who was left for remainder dealers to sell to?
I dunno. I’ve kept in touch with Robin. I’d often buy long runs of hardcovers he wanted off his docks and off his books. He was shocked and disappointed in what I’d pay. But it was much more than if he pulped them. Mostly they were for our Books By the Foot division. Some colors we don’t get enough through the used or estate channels—so, I buy them as “remainders.” A bizarre twist to how this story began.
He’d just shake his head when I’d offer a quarter a book for 879 copies of a green book but then the “extravagant” buck for 2112 beige books.
A few years he joked I should buy Daedalus. I could tell—it wasn’t 100% folly. It would have been folly for me to attempt it. I just don’t know new books the way he and Tamie and Helaine and Earl and everyone there did.
They were the “Gold Standard.” Every book they brought in was vetted for quality, content, eye appeal…
In January 2018, he contacted me. He had some Gaylords of hurts for me. And he wanted to chat about his future plans—”confidentially.”
I thought I knew what was up. I invited him to visit Frederick. It’s only about 30 minutes from Columbia. He’d never seen what we do. He agreed, and I gave him my tour—all these decades later. He had thought I might be able to use some of the racking and equipment he’d be selling when he announced the closing. He knew we’d moved into this 3-acre warehouse just a few years ago. When he finished the walk through he saw we were stuffed—wall-to-wall with books and shelves.
A month or so later, he told me the announcement was forthcoming and that I should visit to see if there was anything I wanted.
I headed over and toured the building. There WAS some equipment we could use. Carts, book caddies, odds and ends. And they weren’t cheap! Robin got my top price on all that stuff—maybe not what he wanted but high enough to pinch me.
He still had a couple hundred thousand books left in the warehouse. The store was still full as well.
We agreed I’d buy the remaining store stock after Going Out of Business sale. I’d also buy any hardcovers he was left with in the warehouse if they were appropriate for Books By the Foot. He mailed us a sample copy of all the books he hadn’t moved to other remainder houses or retailers. I stuck a Post It to the front of each book we could use with my bid price. Just like the old times when I first started, so my Daedalus orders started with Post Its and ended with Post Its. That order shipped May Day 2018. “Total units shipped 44,110.”
Then it was over. The sign came down. The store was empty. He actually found someone for the store fixtures. A master at finding markets where there were none I could imagine.
I’ve been back a few times. Whittling down the last of the last. His once busy office is empty now… Oh, the sights he saw from Robin’s “nest” above the fray.
He sent me an email last week. The subject line read: “The Undead.” He still had 93,450 books I’d passed on already. I went back and visited again. I gave him some names of guys I know that buy office furniture and used boxes. He had about 20 pallets of different sized shipping boxes. All with the Daedalus printed on them. I put Post Its on the copies I could use of the “last” of the last remains of the remainders.
As of today, it’s still not empty…but he has done an amazing job in liquidating the vast amount of equipment and supplies and books.
What will happen to the remains of the remains of the remainders?
Dunno…but I wouldn’t be surprised if…
He’s off to live in Maine with Tamie—part time. He wants to keep a foot in DC with his place in Capitol Hill.
Was he sad about this? Down?
I don’t think so. It was just “time.” Relieved more than anything. I got a sense it just hadn’t been “fun” for quite awhile.
What about me and Wonder? I can’t imagine doing anything else or retiring. Besides it is still FUN—at least fun enough of the time to offset the unfun times.
Robin is another book hero in my life. I aspired to follow his example of quality and growth and success. And I still do…working on it.