A Good Gardener Prunes for the Overall Health of the Organism

Music Shelves After Pull

Tuesday morning January 20, 2020

Every gardener knows good pruning is healthy for plants. Removing dead branches, stalks or leaves opens up the organism for light and new growth.

I’m driving up to Hagerstown. Travis is behind the wheel.

It is a cold bright winter day. I awoke to 61 degrees inside and 17 degrees outside. The wood stove had pushed the ambient temperature inside up 44 degrees. And I wasn’t even trying. There was a colorful dawn outside the bedroom window.

Dawn 01/20

We are driving over South Mountain on Interstate 70. We will pass under the footbridge for the Appalachian Trail high above the highway. The next valley will open up before us. Western Maryland has a series of ridges that run generally north to south. Between the ridges are the lush valleys that attracted settlers here.

Maryland Valley

We need to pull a lot of music books for a movie set. I hope we can cull 40 or 50 linear feet of old/stale or duplicated stock. It is kind of fun doing this. It is physically active—pulling hundreds books from as low as the floor to as high as atop the 8-foot standard height we have traditionally had for our wooden bookcases.

It feels good to purge these kinds of books. Many of these I look at and wonder how they ever got sent to the stores. Who?!?!

Holding many in my hands I can tell precisely why they have never sold.

“Crap Books.”

We will be making spaces for better offerings to our customers I hope.

We also need to prune paperback literature and mystery books for other orders. A LOT of sci-fi. A WHOLE LOT of mystery. Paperbacks we usually sell “by the box.” I’m not sure where all these will be going. Sometimes schools buy them by the box. Sometimes prisons. Sometimes…we don’t know why people order boxes of paperbacks from us.

This will also be therapeutic for the stores because I’m certain there are a lot of duplicate bestsellers in mystery. Grisham, Patterson, Christie… It seems every time I look at a mystery section in a store we have a few dozen Stieg Larsson “Girl Who…” titles. Do they multiply themselves? I caution the folks who send books to the stores not to send many copies of mega bestsellers. The demand is relatively low because so many people have already read these books. The supply is so high because so many people bought the books when they were atop the bestseller lists.

Supply and demand. It is what makes the retail world continue spinning—even the used book retail world.

Classics tends to get too many copies of writers like Mark Twain, Jack London, Jane Austen…even though they sell well. Without “pruning” we end up with dozens of Huck Finn and Sense and Sensibility.

HOWEVER…I won’t be culling The Call of the Wild. During the football games last weekend, I saw the ads for Harrison Ford in the new movie. I’m anticipating a run on the Jack London books.

When the recent Little Women movie proved to be a hit, those Alcott books disappeared from our shelves. The store managers began requesting more Little Women. They’ve never asked for that before. When the movie’s popularity dies down, I’m sure Little Women will start multiplying on the shelves again.

(Ummm…that doesn’t sound very good does it…)

The Bard…

The stores always have way too much Shakespeare. With his works (if “he” actually wrote them all), it isn’t a question of a few shelves of his books. It is lots of shelves of his books. I am guessing there will be one and half bookcases loaded with the Bard at the Hagerstown store. How many Hamlets are too many?

Some “classic” authors are dreadful sellers nowadays, and our shelves always tend to accumulate far too many copies. There’s not much demand for Henrik Ibsen and Sinclair Lewis in 2020. They were popular and widely read in schools long ago—so a lot of copies of their works come in. And they don’t sell.

Tuesday early afternoon:

We are driving back.

Wow! That was a workout! But the results will be great. There were hundreds of old music books that are far better suited for this project than for our store customers’ wants and needs.

We pulled a few thousand books off shelves and dropped them in large plastic tubs.

(The plastic tubs are “recycled” as well. Many customers bring us their unwanted books in plastic tubs and don’t want them back. We get so many that periodically we set a few hundred outside our dockyard gates. We post a Craig’s List ad for “Free Tubs.” They soon disappear.)

Here’s a before picture of the Hagerstown music sections.

Music Shelves Before Pull


Music Shelves During Pull


Music Shelves After Pull

There was an additional exciting benefit to this purge as well.

The music section in this store has long been an issue as they’ve been stocked on 6-inch deep shelves. Many music books are coffee-table size and were constantly falling off these shallow bookcases. This magnificent purge means we will be able to relocate the whole section to some underutilized 12-inch deep shelves in another part of the 10,000 square foot shop. Everything will be reorganized into musical subgenres.

It will be much better for the customers, the team members and…the books.

And all these stale music books in the tubs will go to someone who can actually use them–for their looks.

We filled the van.

Floor to ceiling. Side to side. Front to back…with plastic tubs full of culled stock.

Full Van

Ernest is pulling the same stuff at the Frederick store today as well.

Both stores will be refreshed in the coming weeks.

Win, win, win, win.

The interior designer.

The store.

The bookstore customers.

And the books.

Thursday–Early Afternoon, January 24

I’m driving back from Hagerstown. No, I haven’t been there for all three days.

Wednesday I went to the Gaithersburg store and culled their music section.

I rode up this morning with David driving.

This was the pull list I was given today.

Pull List 01/24
15′ Music
7 Boxes mmpbk myst/adven
3′ skiing (hbk/pbk – VG+)
20 mmpbk myst/adven
17 boxes mmpbk scifi/fantasy
100′ popular trade paperbacks

There was urgency for the rest of the music. Though we had pulled heavily at all three stores Tuesday and Wednesday, we were still short of the 120 linear feet ordered. It has to ship tomorrow for a big Hollywood movie. Initially the parameters were: classical music, history of music, how to play music… The designers wanted no rock or very modern music.

Yesterday afternoon we had to push the designers to include dance and musical theater if we were to fill the order and meet their deadline.


Sometimes we are able to pull books from our internet stock. This works well for especially specific requests. With over 2.5 million books online, we have a lot of all subjects. The hard part is pulling by subject. Our internet shelves are completely random. We stock the books as they are added regardless of subject. I tell people that want to come to the warehouse to shop that the books are only organized in cyberspace. So, a history can end up next to a novel next to a cookbook next to… To pull from our internet stock by subject, we kind of have to be stealthy. We do “searches” of our own website for Ireland or Caribbean or…whatever is being requested. We then send pullers out to snipe the books one at a time.

But it’s much easier to pull books already shelved together in a section. So this week we thinned the music sections at all 3 stores pretty heavily. But like a hole dug in sand on the beach, the shelves will fill back in quickly.

So, over three days the music sections had a severe pruning.

Music Shelves After Second Pull

This is the Hagerstown music bookcases after the secondary culling.


(Actually it hasn’t been emptied as much as it looks. Remember, I decided to move the music sections to deeper bookcases in another part of the store. The larger books were always falling off of these. We already moved books that were already on the floor.)

On Monday I had gone to the Frederick store. At that time there were small orders for classic and mystery paperbacks.

As the week progressed, we got more orders for mass-market paperbacks by subjects. Sci-fi and mystery/adventure.

Tubs of Classic MMPK

The big music order was just “potential” on Monday. I needed to get an estimate of how much we could pull. The original request was 400 linear feet. That would have been impossible to do in 3 days.

To give you an idea of scale…how high are the ceilings in the room you’re reading this in? 8 feet? 10? 400 linear feet would be 40-50 floor-to-ceiling stacks of music books!

I do this every day–messing around with thousands of books. The whirlwind is so often consuming that things sometimes don’t sink in til I settle down.

That is a LOT of music books!


It is Thursday late afternoon.

Tonight I’m going to hear Doris Kearns Goodwin speak at the beloved Weinberg Theater in Frederick.

I’m not sure what Friday will bring. We often have Friday surprises it seems. Some emergency or urgent orders.

We do need a lot more mystery paperbacks.

There is also a 200-foot order for popular trade paperbacks (Think The Kite Runner, Stieg Larsson, Life of Pi, Oprah Picks …)

There’s a 3-foot order of skiing books that we can get too.

If I allow myself to have “fun” tomorrow, I’ll go to one of the stores and be a good gardener. I’ll prune the dead wood so fresh growth has space.

The designer book manager just emailed this exotic request:

Color/subject combos that people are requesting—Can we do?

1′ Aqua/Teal

4′ Snow White

Subjects: Tattoos, surfing, fishing, FL, Sailing, Cars, Sports, Artists, Animal/Nature, and Pinup Girls.

How would you suggest handling these if we’re unable to check colors at the stores?

I think unless basic it’s going to be very hard to combine color and subject since they always seem to want random stuff. Fishing and surfing in blue, sure. In aqua specifically? Sigh.

How do we find a teal tattoo title?

OMG!!! LOL!!!

Can we do this?

How much time do we have?

Hmmm…I’ll think about it over night.


We have been looking for ways to broaden the types of things we sell.

The books are doing fine in the stores.

But after 35 years of renting movies, it is becoming clear that that service is likely doomed.

I’ve been putting aside posters for decades. They’ve been too hard to display. And they are fragile.

We have been adding a lot of prints and engravings and ephemera to the stores in the last year. A couple managers have been doing a great job displaying them.

I’ve decided to “wallpaper” the Frederick store with posters in large plastic bags. I think the result will be impressive. Eye candy.

If they sell—great!

If not, at least they got exposed.

This past weekend I went through some rolled up items that have been in my office for years. There were a couple surprises.

This one made me laugh.

Old Wonder Book Article

Who was that guy?

I remember.

He had a mustache for many, many years. Primarily it was because of a baby face. The mustache, he felt, gave him more “gravitas.”


Old Wonder Book Article Closeup

14 Comments on Article

  1. David commented on

    So to sell art, one way of doing it is to have sliding metal racks that the art hooks/hangs on to. Each rack has a tag identifying what is on the rack. Customers or employees can then slide the racks to and fro or pull them out, depending on how it is constructed. Think of rolling book racks in new libraries. This is the most efficient way – better than flipping through bins. If you’re going to really do it you might reserve a space near your internet book/racks (and also list them online) and devote a room/space in Fredrick for this and see how it goes. Pull stuff for great eye candy at the entrance or in the front windows. Posters, framed art, paintings.

    1. Nick Wineriter replied on

      Thanks for the great “pruning” article!” I also need to cull my book collection of about 2,000 books. And many were bought at Wonder Book. I’ll keep many of my classics: Kafka, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Dumas, Tolstoy, Chekhov, etc. You get the picture. And I’ll hold on to some of my mystery and science fiction classics. Just can’t part with Elmore Leonard or Harlan Ellison. Not to mention my Stephen King collection. But many books I have, I know I’ll never reread again. To me, great literature holds up to rereading. Which means I’ll be keeping my James Joyce collection. I get something new out of Ulysses every time I read it. I’ll be starting my fourth go around soon. But many of my sports and political books will soon leave the barnyard. I mean, how many times can I read those? Besides, I need to make room for future books. Stephen King isn’t retiring anytime soon!

      1. Charles Roberts replied on

        Those are great thoughts Nick!
        Some books are always expendable
        Some can be replaced if the need arises
        Some are irreplaceable if they’ve become a part of you
        I really appreciate you taking the time to read and comment

    2. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks David
      We do have a metal poster rack that opens like doors
      Right now that just has news posters – Casablanca Star Wars…
      We will see if it becomes viable
      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. Teena Hefele commented on

    Omgosh I totally remember that article, and that mustache Chuck! Must say not only do I enjoy the blog immensely but I completely and totally enjoy the pictures of home! Thank you!! Please take care of my most treasured thing ever… Madeline!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Teena!
      A long time ago.
      Madeline is a rock here!
      I’m glad you read them
      Thanks for letting me know!

  3. Doug commented on

    Need a volunteer? I will work for books! We are moving down there in two years. I used to love organizing sections at Book Alcove. There is a lot of satisfaction in organizing books. Just got done going through my 4000 book military history library. BTW, your staff has been fantastic in getting my orders out in a timely manner. Kelly was great in emailing me as to what was going on in the orders. Thanks again.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Hi Doug,
      Thank for reading and writing!
      That’s an old story!
      I’m glad folks are taking care of you.
      When did you work at Book Alcove?
      Let us know when you are coming to the area.

      1. Doug replied on

        Hi Chuck,

        We conversed on the saving Book Alcove blog. I worked there from 92 to 94. I remember Carl redid every section during that time. We had to move the National Geos as people were stealing the coke ads out of them. We also had that mini books by the foot storage back by Chuck in the wood shop. I really enjoyed going through the sections as I learned so much about what makes certain books more valuable. We had a good crew of young and older people in the store. I still have a lot of alcove books in my collection.

        I also remember moving Ray’s store to its last location and moving eight van loads of books out some hoarder’s house. We didn’t even make a dent in the place.

        Just received 34 books from your store today! Very happy camper here.


        1. Charles Roberts replied on

          That is cool Doug!
          I’m sure we probably met.
          I would often drop in and chat with Carl before he got sick.
          Did you know we did some major renovations to Gaithersburg while it was shut down.
          It took several months but here’s a starting place if you haven’t read it already – I think :https://www.wonderbk.com/bookseller/full-circles/
          Thanks again for writing (and collecting books from us!)

          1. Doug replied on

            Can’t wait to see the store in person.

            One question, do you remember the company that rented out an empty grocery store in Rockville or Gaithersburg in 93 and sold remainders for about two weeks. They then gave away all the remaining books to bookstores rather than move them. Carl took a bunch and you came down with a truck. Do they still do that? Can’t remember the name of the company. It was a lot of fun to dig through their stuff.

          2. Charles Roberts replied on

            I only recall a guy from Tennessee buying the leftovers from Clifton Book Company in WVa. (There’s a blog about that – search Clifton)
            He had white leather loafers and thought he had a fortune.
            Ran TV ads…
            He got stuck w tons of books and end up burning them on that farm.
            I dont recall a remainder company…but it could have happened!

  4. Doug commented on

    More Books by the foot stories please.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Will do!
      Thanks for writing!

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