Hyattsville man overcomes recession by selling cookbooks

Bill Holland has collected about 700 cookbooks. After he lost his job at Billboard Magazine, he began selling them.
Bill Holland has collected about 700 cookbooks. After he lost his job at Billboard Magazine, he began selling them. (Raphael Talisman/the Gazette)
By Elahe Izadi
The Gazette
Thursday, January 28, 2010

In 1963, Bill Holland of Hyattsville was a 21-year-old Peace Corps volunteer stationed in Liberia, and he needed to eat.

"It was either learn to cook or eat out of a can for two years," he said.

He came to rely upon his copy of "The James Beard Cookbook," a dependency that would blossom over the years into a love for cooking, cuisine and recipe books.

Holland, 68, has since amassed a collection of 700 vintage cookbooks that he has begun to sell online and at local markets.

He worked as a journalist for Billboard Magazine, but when the magazine shuttered its Washington, D.C., bureau in 2005, Holland beefed up his general book collection and joined his wife, Marianne LaRoche, in selling collectibles at her Eastern Market stand in the District.

"He noticed people were really into cookbooks," said LaRoche, a retired art professor who also sells antiques in Frederick.

Last year, as the recession was in full swing, Holland launched an online cookbook store, http://www.cookbookbazaar.com, as a way to bring in extra income.

Cookbook-only stores are more common in New York City or Los Angeles, Holland said, because those cities have established culinary cultures. The closest such store he knows of is in New York City; another, in Elkridge, is no longer in business.

But Holland said cookbooks are increasing in popularity among younger generations as they feel strains on their wallets and are more inclined to stay in and cook than spend money on a meal out. He said he had his best sales month in December, and about 10 to 20 percent of his clients are mothers and daughters buying cookbooks for each other.

In June, Silver Spring resident Dave Nuttycombe was searching for Julia Child's "The Art of French Cooking" to give to his wife, Hetty Lipscomb, for their fifth anniversary.

Lipscomb's mother was given that book years ago by her husband for their anniversary, so Nuttycombe wanted to get the same edition.

He picked up a newer edition, but quickly realized he'd have to keep searching. That's when he thought of his friend, Holland, who had just launched the online bookstore months before.

"It was this touchstone from her youth and kind of inspired her to enjoy cooking, so yes, any other book wouldn't really cut it," Nuttycombe said. "I thought if anyone had this book, it would be [Holland]."

And sure enough, he did.

Holland goes hunting for books at thrift stores and estate sales about two or three times a week, but cookbooks aren't just for collecting in Holland's home. The couple cooks and bakes often.

"The best cookbooks to me are the ones that have narratives as well as recipes," Holland said.


© 2010 The Washington Post Company