From The Washingtonian:
Capitol Hill Books’ Jim Toole (“If you have to put an age down, say 110”) had already lived a fairly full life before he took on running the secondhand book shop after its original owner passed away in 1994—he earned a degree in history from UCLA, a masters from American University, and served in the Navy for 30 years. Now he says he spends 85 to 90 hours a week tending to and stocking the stuffed-to-the-brim store across the street from Eastern Market, which he expanded to fill the basement and top floor of the rowhouse.
Last weekend, I stepped into the store to hunt for a particular title, and realized that Capitol Hill Books is not like most cozy, quiet bookstores where one can browse unbothered, and that’s because Toole is not like most bookstore owners. His idiosyncrasies are present throughout the entire store, from the haphazard organization system—there’s a “Tower of Tolkien” that’s an actual teetering stack of books by the author, and an entire section of books is lodged in the store’s bathroom—to the excessive handwritten signage to the front door, which is covered in rules for would-be customers.
Not sure whether to laugh or hide when he lectured a woman at the counter for uttering something on his “Not Spoken Here” list that hangs over his shoulder—the offending word was awesome—I decided to get in touch with Toole a few days later to find out why he runs Capitol Hill Books the way he does.
. . . .
I noticed that the foreign language books are in the bathroom.
That’s because foreign language in this country is in the toilet. I had to put something in the toilet room in order to use that space productively, rather than just waste, so I put shelves in there and foreign language books in there because it’s my foreign language room.
. . . .
You also have a list of words that no one is allowed to speak in your store.
I hear “Perfect,” I hear “Like, like, like, like,” and I hear “Awesome” every 32 seconds and it was causing me to have brain damage. So I try to ask people when they’re here to use one of the 30,000 words in the thesaurus other than, “Perfect! Awesome! Oh my God!” When you’re sitting here for 20 years and hear that limited amount of vocabulary that people seem to enjoy using, it really [causes] destruction of gray matter.
. . . .
Do you ever read the Yelp reviews on your store?
No, I don’t—I haven’t got time. You see, we do things by stubby pencil here. I’m sure there are complaints by some people who storm in here and think that they own the place, but no, I own the place, so you’ve got to comply with my rules. For example, the backpack people. Some people feel some kind of constitutional, inalienable right to have all their household belongings in backpacks, and so they run around the store smacking people and books, and they get upset when I say, “You can’t do that.”
Link to the rest at The Washingtonian and thanks to Dave for the tip.