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Jim on Capitol Hill Books

Wednesday, August 10th, 2011

“Who comes through my door to buy books is Joe Everyman, that’s why I don’t specialize in anything particular. When Joe Shmedly and Haroldine Boxbender come through the store after seeing the flea market and the $22 million repairs to the Eastern Market, I want to have things that appeal to all of them.

I know it is just a matter of time before they push me out and make this another Starbucks, so that we can have more crap on every corner of this city.

“In my years here, I have sold lots and lots of books. Overall, I mainly sell fiction, and mostly to women. Though, I have never sold as many books to males as I do now that Obama is in office. I’m not sure if he caters to more intellectuals, or what. Prior to him, I sold mostly to women. The men used to come in here and stand around, trying to look cool. I used to say to them, what the fuck? Why don’t you read? Or, I would give the girl a book, and tell her to read it to the poor bastard.

“You would figure with the Marine barracks and Navy Yard close by, more men might read, but those guys don’t pick up books. I am not sure why, I really got into reading during my 30 years, 26 days, and two hours in the Navy. And no, I don’t know the exact minute. The Navy controlled 75% of the earth’s surface, and I wanted to learn about international relations, so I started reading and eventually got a Master degree.

“When I got out of the Navy, I decided to move to D.C. I am from California, and was fed up with that place and liked the culture here better. Most people are the other way around, but that’s only because they haven’t spent much time in California. I saw everything I wanted to see there and  decided that I would finish my life here.

“I came to the Capitol Hill area and got to know this store. It was owned by Bill Kerr, who worked at the Washington Post at night, and ran this store by day. He got his collection working at Wayward Books, where Montmartre restaurant is now, and would get paid in books. When he died, I convinced his sister to let me take over the place.

“I was tired of working for other people, and decided that I wanted to fool around with books. I made an offer to her to rent the store, and then I started building the place up. After two years, I had enough books to fill this floor. A few years later, I was able to open the mystery room upstairs. A couple of years after that, I opened the music room and then the basement. When the owner died, they were going to kick me and my 20,000 books out. I went to see people I vowed I would never talk to again in life, including the bank, to beg for money in 2005. So, me and my 20,132 books own this building.

“Now, I spend 90 hours a week looking for books and running this store. People still bring me books, but I realize a long time ago that the best place to get books is from dead people because they don’t take their books when they leave. So, I get most of my collection from estate sales, yard sales, and auctions.

“I love this work, but can find it exasperating at times. In the store, people leave books wherever they feel like, so I will find Ulysees God knows where. And then, there are the people who argue about prices and don’t understand inflation. I charge less than half price for a book, but if it cost $10 in 1980, it costs more now. I can’t take you in a time machine back to when it was $10. Sometimes I feel like I have to teach these people basic economics.

“And then, there are the rules of the store. First, you can only get in when it is open. Second, no cell phones. This is a book store and not a phone booth. Third, there are words and phrases that you can’t use in my store: like, oh my God, neat, sweet, have a good one, that’s a good question, totally, whatever, perfect, Kindle or Amazon. These words give me brain damage. I’m serious. When people use them in here, I tell them to get a thesaurus and stop being so mentally lame.

“I hope that the store will stay around, but I am in the buggy whip era. Know what that means? For a while, they made buggy whips because not everyone had a car. With buggies, you needed a whip to get the horse to trot. With the car, the buggy whip people went out of business slowly. So, that is me, slowly going out of business. Big book shops are closing down, and those two-faced bureaucratic Johnny Onenotes in the D.C. government scream out the window that they want to help small businesses, and then close the window. So, I have property taxes, Kindle, and Amazon working against me.

“I know it is just a matter of time before they push me out and make this another Starbucks, so that we can have more crap on every corner of this city.”

Jim Toole is the owner of Capitol Hill Books at 57 C Street Southeast.

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  1. I saw this guy collecting up books at MLK Library’s Book Plus a couple weeks ago. He was wearing his Capitol Hill Books hat and when I said I thought his book store was the best in the city, he just gritted back on me. Somebody might be like “fuck you then mafaguha and your cot damn store” but at the same time this dude’s saltiness is understood considering his years at sea. His “so what” attitude is refreshing in a city where people fake too much. This is the best (used) book store in the city, ahead of Second Story by a little. Bartlebys in GTown was great but closed recently.

    Comment by John — August 10, 2011 @ 10:24 am

  2. DC’s soup nazi for books. Love this man

    Comment by Steph — August 10, 2011 @ 10:35 am

  3. No, don’t ever close down! Where will I get my mystery books for those long flights for work.

    Comment by Jon — August 10, 2011 @ 10:46 am

  4. This article brilliantly captures Jim’s personality. I think I’ll stop in here to check out his collection of WWII history books as my 12-year-old stepson has requested this for his birthday. The only way to not lose a local business icon is to support his business.

    Comment by Robin — August 10, 2011 @ 11:38 am

  5. Such a great piece on Jim – really capturing his great saltiness. A DC treasure for sure!

    Comment by Maggie — August 10, 2011 @ 12:28 pm

  6. As a proud Obama man and a reader, I like this man already.

    Comment by Quincy — August 10, 2011 @ 12:29 pm

  7. @#$% You Amazon and Kindle! We need more people like Jim around to sell us books and tell us what we can and cant do in his store. I worry that my kids will lose the beauty of these experiences and people like Jim Toole.

    Comment by ReaderRider — August 10, 2011 @ 12:49 pm

  8. From our conversations, I would bet that Jim has read all 20,000 of his books, too!

    Comment by Troy — August 10, 2011 @ 3:05 pm

  9. great interview, great place. one of my favorite spots in DC.

    Comment by lauren — August 11, 2011 @ 11:25 am

  10. His attitude and insight are priceless. as is the list of forbidden words! I’m tempted to print and hang over my desk. hope this place doesn’t close or change too much — I wonder if the guys who run bookstore movers are still saving up to buy this place when Jim retires.

    Comment by idit — August 12, 2011 @ 12:09 pm

  11. I love thias man for his independence

    Comment by jo — August 14, 2011 @ 2:42 pm

  12. I hope this guy lives forever and his store remains in business until the end of time.

    But…what’s wrong with saying “have a good one?” Seems like an innocuous friendly phrase to me.

    Comment by Tim L — August 15, 2011 @ 11:37 am

  13. [...] wish I could meet this guy. If I’m ever Washington I am going to seek out his shop.You have to read the whole article. [...]

    Pingback by My Kindred Spirit « The Book and Biscuit — August 15, 2011 @ 5:22 pm

  14. [...] to get books is from dead people because they don’t take their books when they leave,” says Washington, D.C., bookseller Jim Toole.  And you’d better believe it, because Jim Toole say [...]

    Pingback by Literary Brooklyn & More | Red Weather Review — August 16, 2011 @ 8:31 am

  15. [...] Jim Toole is the owner of Capitol Hill Books | Capitol Hill Books | Washington DC | People’s D… [...]

    Pingback by Bookmarked! | Ross Notes — August 16, 2011 @ 10:10 am

  16. Was introduced to this incredible treasure trove this past Saturday and it blew my mind. It could quite possibly be my new favorite place.

    Comment by Sarah — August 16, 2011 @ 5:30 pm

  17. [...] an interview with People’s District Jim Toole, owner of Capitol Hill Books, Washington, D.C., discussed the rules of his bookstore: [...]

    Pingback by The Rules of the Bookstore » Adad Press — August 16, 2011 @ 6:51 pm

  18. I miss Mr Jim soo much! I had thee pleasure of styling Capitol Hill bobs next door to the store…he is awesome! He’s also a great granddaddy and even took time w/ my son..who always ended up there “to help” some way or another…Amazing humor and a real life grit..but a softy at heart..if u know what makes tick..u will get a smile..or a laugh!..I have 3 years worth to cherish…lol Johnny Onenotes..LOVE Mr Jim!

    Comment by didi green — August 17, 2011 @ 9:08 pm

  19. I miss Mr Jim soo much! I had thee pleasure of styling Capitol Hill bobs next door to the store…he is awesome! He’s also a great granddaddy and even took time w/ my son..who always ended up there “to help” some way or another…Amazing humor and real life grit..but a softy at heart..if u know what makes him tick..u will get a smile..or a laugh!..I have 3 years worth to cherish…lol Johnny Onenotes..LOVE Mr Jim!

    Comment by didi green — August 17, 2011 @ 9:09 pm

  20. [...] [...]

    Pingback by Read A Good Book Lately …Meet Mr Jim « networkhair — August 17, 2011 @ 11:01 pm

  21. The store is pretty damn singular. The wine and cheese parties they have some weekends are not a bad time either.

    I’ve been less worried about the store disappearing since a few of the employees have vowed to buy the store from Jim when he retires, though he seems like he’s going strong in his curmudgeony fashion.

    Comment by Jason — August 18, 2011 @ 9:24 pm

  22. [...] Hill Books when I read some fine, bookish words of wisdom from the store’s owner, Jim Toole, on last week. After reading Jim’s sentiments about, books, independent bookstores, and acting [...]

    Pingback by Blogging From: Capitol Hill Books « Blogging From Bookstores — August 22, 2011 @ 5:14 pm

  23. [...] [...]

    Pingback by Owner of Capitol Hill Books featured in People’s District « Bookstore Movers — September 24, 2011 @ 1:20 am

  24. The store is actually at 657 C Street Southeast, DC

    Comment by Andy W — February 11, 2012 @ 7:09 pm

  25. [...] de la seccion de libros de cocina en Capitol Hill Books- Share this:Correo electrónicoImprimirFacebookTwitterStumbleUpon Archivado en Almond Flour, [...]

    Pingback by Galletas de… « Blog de Recetas — February 18, 2012 @ 8:26 pm

  26. Intellect, down to earth, independent thinking. Great fun your article. People’s desire for direct satisfaction of urges may lead them to look in the direction of starbucks (you can still like the coffee and the people working there), kindle and amazon. We do this instead of for instance investigating what our future will we be if we keep giving in to even our slightest inclinations. See, use your senses, take your time, examine, contemplate. Read, understand, write.

    Comment by B. van Tussenbroek — April 14, 2012 @ 3:56 am

  27. [...] Full piece here. [...]

    Pingback by Owner of Capitol Hill Books featured in People’s District | Bookstore Movers — April 14, 2012 @ 11:50 pm

  28. This guy scares the bejesus out of me… and it’s also why I love his store.

    Comment by cia — June 13, 2012 @ 2:10 pm

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    Comment by the kitchen store — August 5, 2012 @ 10:21 pm

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