Remainders Of the Day

By Bob Thompson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, January 16, 2006


The hunt is about to begin at the world's largest bargain book fair. Endless rows of tables crammed with sample volumes have turned this windowless Hilton exhibition hall into a kind of literary Filene's Basement. Robin Moody has his first target picked out, and he's explaining how he plans to deal with his book-buying competitors when they converge on Chronicle Books to snatch up discounted wares.

"What we're going to do is go like this: ' Okay , I got that one!' " he says, thrusting a hip toward an innocent bystander. "It's like basketball. Block out! And you don't have to be tall to do it."

Moody, who at 5 feet 8 is unlikely to draw comparisons to Shaquille O'Neal, is founder and president of Daedalus Books & Music. His Columbia-based company may be the biggest book-related enterprise in the Washington area you've never heard of, though its blend of high-grade literary product and low-end prices are well known to the book-addicted.

He's also Daedalus's primary buyer -- and he has a 122,000-square-foot warehouse to keep filled.

Ten minutes later, he and Daedalus Vice President Helaine Harris are scanning the offerings at Chronicle, where, in past years, they have found much to like.

"How many of this quilt thing do you have?" Moody asks. Then, quickly: "Can we take them all?"

He's way too polite to throw a hip check for real, but he's not above beginning his negotiations a few minutes before the starting bell.

Moving on from Chronicle after 20 intense minutes or so, Moody and Harris run into two more Daedalus buyers: John Teague, who manages the retail store attached to the Columbia warehouse, and Heidi Bell, who will run the company's first stand-alone retail outlet, in Baltimore's Belvedere Square. (It opens its doors today, with a grand opening scheduled for Saturday.)

Teague and Bell are on a high: In a hall filled with other bookstore buyers, they've just beaten a wily competitor to some prime titles. "For years I've been following that guy around," Teague exults.

Then he tosses out a metaphor to explain why the bargain book trade can produce such rushes.

"Regular book selling, you're more in settled agriculture," he says. "We're hunter-gatherers. We're out here, and it's like, if you've got it, if it's got your arrow in it, it's yours.

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