Wonder Book Move

Wonder Book moving on the fly in 2014.

Ten years ago…

Wonder Book was at its greatest risk ever. We were being compelled to move, so the building we occupied could be knocked to erect Frederick’s second Walmart. The end of our lease term was closing in. The landlord had told me, “No extensions.”

I had made an offer on an abandoned US postal facility in March 2013.

US Postal Facility

It was a LOT of money. Terrifying. Their broker conveyed a counteroffer in April. Too terrifying. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when I rejected it.

But that left Wonder Book still on a cliff’s edge.

Chris Kline (the hero of this story) and I kept looking for a warehouse to buy or lease. I think he was disappointed that I didn’t counter their counter. I was leaning toward leasing.

“It wasn’t a bad deal, Chuck.”

Mid 7 figures.


Ten years later: April 5, 2023.

Ernest and I are heading west on Interstate 70.

There are swaths of daffodils blooming in the medians. A lot of small wild trees are blooming white in the roadside woodlands. Wild cherries and others. We are about to cross under the high steel footbridge that allows the Appalachian Trail to cross the highway.

We are driving to the Hagerstown store. I haven’t been there for over a month. My son supervises it, and my input or observations are pretty much superfluous—unless something big is going on.

We are just going to “show the colors” and pull some culls for Books by the Foot orders. These include:

  • “Well Worn” Biographies
  • Pro-Democrat Politics
  • African History
  • International Relations
  • Golf (Golf! I’m playing this afternoon! My son’s idea. I haven’t played since September 2019—in Scotland. I kind of lost interest when my best golf buddies, John and Cap, stopped playing. John passed away suddenly in August 2020. Cap’s back went bad about the same time. He doesn’t want to risk another surgery.)
  • …and some other stuff.

2023 has had the longest “spring” I’ve experienced. It began in early January! 2022-23 was the Winter that Wasn’t. I never had to attach the plow to the ATV. February was usually in the 50s. I haven’t needed to burn nearly as much wood in the cast-iron Vermont Castings Defiant stove.

We are heading back now. Ernest and I pulled about 25 big plastic tubs of duplicates and other culls.

It was a good workout. “HD”—the Hagerstown store’s nickname—will have room for a lot of fresh stock.

Back to 2013…

In June, the brokers for the post office came back and asked if my offer was still good. The government wanted to get the property off their books, and the end of their fiscal year was approaching.

“No! No! No! IT IS TOO MUCH MONEY!” my conservative, debt-averse self screamed silently.


“Chuck, this is the deal you wanted in March,” Chris told me over the phone.

“But, but, but…” I sounded like a little motorboat.

We met in person about it. He had some white 8 1/2 x 11 sheets of paper in his hand. They were LOIs. Letters of Intent (to purchase.)

“You’ve got to do this!”

I don’t know if Chris was actually poking his forefinger in my chest or was keeping it a few inches away.

“It is a GREAT deal!”


I was getting cold feet on the warehouse purchase in the summer of 2013. Settlement was coming up in September. I’d always been debt averse. This was going to put me millions in the hole.

“I don’t know…”

Yes. This time I was actually whining.

Chris Kline and I had been searching for a property to lease or buy for about a year. Maybe more. In 2010 or so, the landlord at the warehouse I was leasing on the north side of Frederick informed me that after my last option, there would be no lease renewals.

“We are going to knock this building down and put up a Walmart.”

The deadline to be out was June 2015.

That set my timer running. At first, I was looking casually. After all, I’d just committed to a 5-year option which would take me to 2015. So, I couldn’t wait too long, nor could I leave too early. I would have to pay double to occupy two spaces simultaneously.

Then the landlord indicated they would let me out of the lease early if I wanted. They wanted to level the huge warehouse ASAP. I occupied 72,000 square feet of the building. I think altogether it was five times that, what with other tenants.

Hmmm… I could retire. Dismantling the book business would be heartbreaking. There are a number of “career” people here. I’d leave them out to dry. And then the books… what would become of all the books?

Wonder was “too big to fail.” No one would buy all those books, much less the business. It was and is a rara avis. Too big and too unique to market. Mixing animal metaphors—a bit of a white elephant.

And I was still enjoying the work. And I wasn’t old enough to retire. What would I do with myself? My job kept me sane.

It still does.

We’d been looking for a new location for about two years. I knew the deadline, but I’d never dreamed of moving that much stuff.

The landlord that was knocking down my old warehouse offered to put me up in one of his new buildings. It was expensive. New buildings are. And I’d still be in his (and his brother’s) thrall. They were nice guys, but really big movers in commercial real estate—especially warehousing. No. Not the best option. I was looking for a deal. A rental deal.

At first, I was looking at rentals with Maribeth.

“There’s just not that much out there, Chuck.”

That became abundantly clear.

“Too far.”

“Too expensive.”

“Too decrepit.”

“Too small.”

“Too… too… too…”

At some point, Chris got involved. He wrote my first bookstore lease in 1983. He was tall. 6’2″ or thereabouts. Thin. Handsome. He looked like something out of Sears catalog back then. We sat down in Vinnies. It was a pizza place next to the spot I was looking at about a quarter mile west of my first bookstore location. We used to joke that the place made their money selling more than pizza. The “dough truck” came down from New Jersey every week, and the “dough” wasn’t pizza dough. Just speculation… Back then, there was time for idle speculation and joking—the bookstore was often not very busy.

Anyway, Chris soon went on to bigger and better things than penny-ante used bookstore leases. He became a force in commercial real estate. He served on boards in banks and other institutions in the 80s and 90s.

Me? I just ground it out selling used books. Slow and steady—like the turtle. VERY slow.

Anyway, Chris and I reconnected nearly thirty years later. We began looking for properties to rent or buy.

“Too far.”

“Too expensive.”

“Too decrepit.”

“Too… too… too…”

“There’s just not that much out there, Chuck.”

Then in the winter of 2013, Chris called me, “They’re trying to sell the post office building. We should go look at it.”

The post office had moved out of its distribution facility in Frederick in 2011. They were going through a mandated downsizing nationwide.

We got screwed by that. The local service had been wonderful. Pickups were like clockwork. When they moved everything out of Frederick, they didn’t have the necessary infrastructure in the new facility—it was in Prince George’s County, I think. Anyway, we started getting complaints, “Where’s my book?”

“You took my money and never shipped my order.”

Our reply was always the same, “We shipped your order the same day we received. Here’s the proof.”

We started getting in trouble. Amazon was not pleased with all the customer complaints. These were THEIR customers. We were just fulfillers.

We had to figure out what was going on. Somehow, we found our packages were often being held up in a bottleneck. The bottleneck was the new facility. They couldn’t process all the additional volume. Our packages sat in trailers—aging.

It was a nightmare, and perhaps the biggest threat to us ever up to that time. We were close to being “redlighted.” Redlighting would mean Amazon would turn us off. Indefinitely. We struggled and struggled until we finally discovered where the problem was. We struggled and struggled to get the problem resolved. 2011 was a tough time.

In early 2013, the government had a brokerage handling the dissolution of the many USPS properties around the country. A rep gave me and Chris a tour.

It was HUGE. Nearly twice the size of our current warehouse (which, remember, the landlord wanted to knock down as soon as possible.)

I couldn’t appear too anxious. I’d played the game many times before. But as we walked through the big empty space, I just kept saying, “Wow! Wow! WOW!” silently to myself.

It had 21 loading docks! 21! Our current warehouse had 1. ONE.


So, to recap. We made an offer much lower than their asking price in the spring of 2013. They made a counteroffer. I shied away. They came back in late spring and asked if our offer was still good.

“You’ve got to do this!”

Chris sat me down and showed me how the monthly payments to service that much debt was actually less than what I was paying to rent.

“You’ll own the building. You’ll control your own fate. Ask your accountant.”

I did. I’ve been with them since 1983. They explained, “We’d set up another entity to ‘own’ the building. Wonder Book would pay rent to that entity. It’s a good deal, Chuck.”


I met with the banker who had helped me many times. Pat Mayer—another hero in my life. We had the building appraised. After a lot of “blood samples” (a.k.a. info) the bank agreed to finance the loan.

“You need a name for the corporation that will own the building.”


I’ve named my pets after The Lord of the Rings characters most of my life.

“How about Merry & Pippin?”

Those were the names of my two young Jack Russell terriers. They turned twelve this February.

September was approaching. There was no backing out now. I did consider running away. Just go live in the woods or something. I couldn’t, though. Too many people were depending on me. My kids still needed college tuition.

We asked questions about the vast building. No one in the postal service seemed to be able to answer.

“The only one who knows how this stuff works is an old guy, Emory Hubbard. He’s retired.”

Chris eventually tracked him down. Chris said he wasn’t interested in advising until he heard that it was Wonder Book buying the post office.

Chris told me later that Emory said something like, “Wonder Book saved my life. I was going through bad chemo and going to their store helped me survive. I could get lost in the books there.”

He helped us with advice for ten years—divine intervention perhaps—until he passed away unexpectedly on Christmas Eve 2023.

The big day came. September 2013. I signed my name on the numerous documents that would obligate me in every way possible.

We made a deal with the old landlord. “We can be out by June 30, 2014.”

“We will let you out of your lease then. If you stay longer, there will be penalties.”

Big penalties.

Since it had been a federally owned building, the local inspectors had never been inside the former post office warehouse. Once Wonder Book owned it, they were all over it.

“This needs to be replaced. That needs to go. You can’t use that. You need a new pump and sprinkler system.”

To replace the water pump and sprinkler system was a huge expense. 6 figures.

“Why?” The building wasn’t very old. The post office had spent a lot of money on upkeep and improvements.

I’m sure there was some technical reason. The bottom line was, “Because you have to.”

All that work needed to be completed before we could get an occupancy permit. We couldn’t work in the building until we had permission to occupy.

Somehow, we got permission to at least begin moving stuff from the old warehouse to store in the post office. I think Chris may have helped with that too. He knows everyone in the local government as well.

We nicknamed the building “Tilco”—the name of the street it is on.

That began perhaps the largest move of used and collectible books anywhere. Who knows?

How do you go about moving millions of books?

Old Warehouse Before Move

You learn as you go. Necessity is the mother of invention.

The first and easiest things to move were the books and stuff stored on pallets. We owned a 24-foot box truck. I leased a second one.

The old warehouse was located on Monocacy Blvd. Back then, Monocacy was kind of a back road. It wound through farms and undeveloped land. That was the route between the old and new buildings. It is now lined with new commercial and residential development.

I don’t know how many trips we took back and forth over the nine-month moving process. Hundreds, certainly. One truck or the other was always in motion during business hours. The trucks would hold 10 standard pallets each. We’d fill one up at Monocacy and drive it down to Tilco. Unload. Often we’d pass the other truck coming or going. Clif and I were the only ones qualified to drive the big trucks. No one else was willing to learn.

It wasn’t hard, especially since the route had wide lanes, little traffic and few turns.

I drove so much that when I went to bed, I still felt I was in motion. The big trucks bump and rock and sway. There’s a lot of engine noise and overall vibration.

We finally got the permits necessary in December 2013, I think. People could start working in the new building.

The challenge then was how to stay in business while moving things like computers and the internet stock.

Brainstorming. What should be done in what order? It all had to go.

We bought some new steel shelving and got the name of a company that could erect it. To move the first books, we needed shelves to stock them on.

That began the process of emptying shelves—in perfect order—onto 4-wheel 6-shelf steel carts. The carts would have a sheet with the inventory number attached. When there were enough loaded carts, they would be rolled onto the box truck. Heavy canvas straps were used to tie them in, so they wouldn’t shift during the drive. When I’d get to the new warehouse, I’d back in slowly until I bumped—as gently as possible—into the bumpers attached to the building at the loading dock. I’d then have to go find help to get unloaded. That could be difficult in the huge building. I came up with an idea.


Silly. But it worked. When I’d parked at the dock, I’d clamber down from the cab and walk to the open dock door. I’d press the airhorn’s button.


And help would appear. They would roll the carts off the truck and then fill it with carts they’d emptied. I’d drive back to Monocacy.

Then began the necessary balance of disassembling emptied steel shelves at the old warehouse and loading them on our trucks to move them to the new one.

A lot of the carts sadly didn’t survive the move.

Dead Carts

The shelving team—mostly guys in their early 20s—were great. They’d re-erect the shelves in the new building. Then go back to the old building and take apart more emptied bookcases.

Months were passing. The MOVE was going as fast as we could do it. The old building was emptying like… a clogged drain.

Shelving Work

I soon began driving on weekends. People willing to work overtime would help.

June 30, 2014 was getting closer and closer.

We continued taking internet orders during the move. We couldn’t afford not to. We would pull orders from the new building and truck them back to the old building until the tipping point came, and we moved the shipping department to the new building. Then we would truck orders from the old building to the new.

That was why moving the internet stock in perfect order was crucial. We had to be able to find the books people ordered online.

June was approaching.

Every night, I dreamed I was in motion.

Somehow, it all happened.

I’m still not sure how. Maybe there was some divine intervention.

The end of June… just odds and ends left to move.

AND my office… somehow, that was the last thing to go. I don’t know why. Maybe it was the least important? Maybe I just didn’t want to let go.

I became paralyzed.







Staci, a web manager who had worked her a while, intervened. She forced me into my office, and together we packed my “stuff.”

(A lot of that stuff remains packed. I’m trying to go through it now at home—in tubs and boxes. A lot of it is trash—recycling. Why did I save it? Well, I have found some neat things—personal history…)

It was the evening of June 30th, 2014. The last load left for Tilco. There were some longtime staff and a couple of contractor friends. We set off the old defunct fire extinguishers in celebration.

This was all that was left.

Old Warehouse Empty

To this day, I don’t know how we did it. We had to do almost all of it ourselves. There wasn’t money to hire contractors, and anyway, there were many things that only “book people” were qualified to do.

We’d met the deadline.

It wasn’t really necessary though because the old building wasn’t demolished until the summer of 2015.

In the new building, the work was just beginning. In the rush to move, there were a lot of loose ends in every part of the building.

But it all turned out all right. We are still here in 2023. More books are being rescued than ever before.

The new warehouse came with a 7-acre vacant lot. I suppose the post office bought it in anticipation of expansion. The property values have increased so much that the scruffy plot was worth a LOT. It seemed to be a no brainer to develop it when the old loan ballooned in 2020.

A TERRIFYING no brainer.

But yesterday an LOI on the second building was signed. If it goes through, both buildings will be pre-leased long before they are completed. They will add security and stability to the book business should it ever need extra support.

The new buildings are… IMPOSING.

Yesterday after the builders had left for the day, Chris and Cap came over, and we sat and chatted in the shell of the Pippin A building. Pippin B has most of its roof on already.

The three of us have come a long way in 40 years. Wonder Book has survived and thrived in many ways because people with power and influence and believed in us at critical times over the decades.


The new buildings tower over the old Tilco warehouse.

At home, the gloves, scarves, knit hats and heavy coats are moving downstairs to the cedar closet.

The cast iron wood rings will soon leave the porch and be hung on the wall in the barn.

I’ll change the flannel sheets to light cotton soon.

When I go to work in the morning, the vehicle’s heater is on. In the afternoon, the A/C is needed.

When I feel the last frost is behind us, the 80 or so potted plants can begin moving outside. I’ll be able to reclaim large sections of my home.

Every morning, I open the sidelights to the bay window and toss sunflower seed into the window feeders and onto the porch roof. I stick my head out, and the air is filled with birdsong.

Looking down the slope toward the valley, the forest floor is carpeted with daffodils.

And suddenly the redbuds are blooming!

Blooming Redbuds

Spring has burst forth in all its glory!

11 Comments on Article

  1. Mary Hill commented on


    You are indeed a wonder! How do you do it all?

    A life well-lived….


    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Desperation maybe?
      Mania? Certainly.
      Thanks Mary!
      I appreciate it!

  2. Jim commented on

    I’m a frequent shopper online and in your stores. Interesting story!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you so much for that – as well as reading and commenting!

  3. Gary Fowler commented on

    The fanfare on your short video was inspired! Strauss, I think? I remember playing that in college orchestra, over 50 years ago. I played that little E flat clarinet that looks like a toy, up there in the range of piccolos.
    As always, thanks Chuck. Blessings!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Gary.
      “Also Sprach Zarathustra” is the title.
      It was an homage to the opening of the movie 2001 !
      Thank you for reading and writing!

  4. JOHN E STOCKMAN commented on

    I retired some 15 years ago I read over 100 books (yes hard cover with dust jackets) every year and maintain records of what I have read by author.Wonder book has been my main source of books for many years . Thanks to your wonderful computer software system I can easly locate the authors and their books.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you!
      I’m glad we can help.
      Please let us know if there are ever any problems.
      If we don’t know – we cant fix them!
      I appreciate your reading and writing me.

      1. Thomas C. Sokolosky-Wixon, Jr. replied on

        Inspirational history ….. and the beat goes on.
        MAZAL & Blessings

        1. Charles Roberts replied on

          Thanks Tommie
          Do you still want bookplates?
          Email address ion so!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *