Standing at the counter of the soon-to-be gone Da-Lee Book Store in Fairfax City, Dan Shumate, a regular customer, was both sad and angry.
"I resent them very much," he said, looking down the mall toward the newest outlet of Crown Books, the fast-growing regional discounter that is sending shivers down the spines of area booksellers. "There's a place for Crown, but not at the expense of driving independent dealers out of business."
Da-Lee's owners, former Parisians Bernard and Lamya Foullon, say that is precisely what has happened to their little store at Fair City Mall on Main Street (Rte. 236).
"It's awful, it's awful," said Mrs. Foullon. "It took five years to build up this business.
After Crown opened its store at Fair City Mall -- its sixth venture into Northern Virgnia -- two months ago, Bernard Foullon said his daily gross plunged from $500 to $250. The Crown store, by comparison, is selling $4,000 worth of books a day said a sales clerk.
"We buy books at a 40 percent discount," Foullon said. "How can I afford to sell at 35 percent discount?. . . I decided to get out of off the area book business.
The nearby Crown, like other outlets in the chain begun by wunderkind Robert Haft, the 26-year-old son of Dart Drug Co. chairman and president Herbert Haft, retails best-sellers at a 35 percent discount and offers other discounts ranging from 20 to 50 percent. To make a profit on its thin margin, Crown relies on heavy volume -- a gambit that appears to be off, to the dismay of some independent bookdealers who say the chain skims the cream off area book business.
"It definitely makes a difference," says Joanne Gartenmann, who, with her husband Paul, owns Barcraft Books on Columbia Pike in Fairfax County, not far from another recently opened Crown store. "Unfortunately, Crown takes the easy sales and leaves the hard sales to others."
By making the hard sales, ordering difficult-to-find books through wholesalers or directly from publishing houses -- something Crown won't do -- the Foullons established a reputation for their Da-Lee store. (The name is an acronym derived from the names of their two children, Danielle and Lee).
Mrs. Foullon displayed a pile of looseleaf folders, each of them a thousand pages thick. On each page were four or so special orders from customers who, according to Bernard, came from as far as McLean and Springfield. One, he remembers, originated in the Phillipines.
The special orders, because they involve extra work and often correspondence, are not as profitable as the best-selling hardcovers sitting on the shelf. One title the Foullons ordered in 1978 seemed to sum up the special orders: "How to Cook His Goose and Other Wild Game" ($3.95).
Crown's Robert Haft subleased his Fairfax City space from Dart Drug which operates a drug store and home center at Fair City Mall. Dart in turn leases from the mall's owner, Combined Properties, Inc., whose principal owner is Herbert Haft, Dart's president and chairman.
Robert Haft, who was bankrolled by his father in starting Crown two years ago, brushed aside criticism that his discounting next to established book stores is unfair.
"We are bringing lower book prices to Washington everyday," he said, virtually repeating the copy in his extensive advertising program. "People are delighted by the prices and selection. We've heard it time and time again."
"There is room for well-run bookstores offering special services and selections," he said, while refusing to comment on the Da-Lee situation on the chain's overall sales.
One independent suburban bookseller who has survived the Crown competition, Dorothy B. Callahan of McLean, agrees.
"The first years sales were down 25 percent," said Mrs. Callahan, whose husband is General Assembly Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax). "That wasn't devastating, but it sure hurt."
Her store, McLean Books Ltd., has recovered most of the losses by not relying on best-sellers -- Crown's staple -- but instead extending special-order services, including stocking libraries for think-tanks at the nearby Westgate-Westpark research and development center.
Officials of Combined Properties, which leases space to Da-Lee, suggested that the Foullons made their decision to close too hastily. "There's always a settling-in operation," one said. "Deciding to leave after 30 days is not enough time."
But Mrs. Foullon, a small, intense woman whose French accent is intact despite more than a quarter of a century in America, dismissed such a suggestion.
"All the if's don't change the situation when you're in the same shopping center with a competitor offering those kinds of discounts," she said.
What helped to convince her and her husband to quit, she said, were instances like the one involving a customer who, ordered two copies of Henry Kissinger's "White House Years." After gratefully claiming the volumes, which were sometimes hard to find during the holidays, the customer returned to the store 10 minutes later, Mrs. Foullon said.
"He said the books were 40 percent off at Crown," she said. "and that if we wouldn't give him the same discount, he wanted to return them. So we gave him the discount."
Shortly later, Da-Lee was discounting everything. But not to compete with Crown, simply to liquidate inventory. CAPTION: Pictures 1 and 2, The Winner -- Crown Books, which opened an outlet in Fair City Mall two months ago, is selling $4,000 worth of books per day at discounts of 20 to 50 percent. It depends on a heavy volume to survive on a slimmer profit margin than independent booksellers.; Pictures 3 and 4, The Loser -- Bernard and Lamya Foullon, owners of the Da-Lee Book Store in the same mall, are closing up shop after the Crown outlet cut their business in half. "We buy at a 40 percent discount," says Foullon. "How can I afford to sell at a 35 percent discount?" Photos by Douglas Chevalier -- The Washington Post