In the realm of Craigslist ads for moving companies, the word “erudite” sticks out like a leather-bound volume of Camus on a Walmart shelf. As does “bibliophilic.”
Many movers’ online advertisements boast of their brawn and speed (frequently employing poor grammar and an excess of exclamation points!!!!), but Bookstore Movers, based on Capitol Hill, sells a more literary brand.
Its owner, Matt Wixon, is a part-time employee of Capitol Hill Books, the creaky row-house shop near Eastern Market known for its floor-to-ceiling towers of secondhand tomes. Wixon hopes to someday buy the store from its current owner when he retires, and he started the moving company, with help from fellow bookstore employees Aaron Beckwith and Kyle Burk, as a way to raise the funds he’ll need.
Wixon is a former philosophy and English major whose shaved head and goatee give him the look of a nightclub bouncer. Still, on a recent morning, he has a bit of down time in between moving jobs, and he seems perfectly at home among the bookstore’s sagging shelves. As he scales the store’s narrow stairs — lined, of course, with teetering stacks — he has to shift his broad shoulders sideways to avoid knocking down a paperback or two.
The moving company is a means to an end, and the goal is to preserve Capitol Hill Books, a quirky outpost in a world dominated by iPads and Amazon.com.
“You’re really engaged in a labor of love,” Wixon says. “You feel like you’re battling forces of inevitability.”
Jim Toole, the bookstore’s current owner, approached his young employees several years ago with the idea that they might take over the store someday.
“I’m not going to live forever, and I thought maybe they will bring some verve and new ideas,” says Toole. He declines to give his age but admits, “I’m just a stale old fart.”
Toole, a former Navy officer, is one of Capitol Hill’s characters, known for a gruff demeanor and ultra-dry humor that serves as a kind of litmus test: Either you get it and you become a loyal customer, or you don’t. Toole, who bought the bookstore in 1994, has taught his potential successors the essentials of running the bookstore, which he says mostly comes down to finding more books. Most other kinds of stores sell products that can be ordered wholesale. A used-bookstore owner, though, must constantly shuck and jive to stock his shelves, scouring estate sales, auctions and charity book sales.
Wixon doesn’t know just how much money he’ll need to raise. He might just buy the store’s stock and the name, or he might try a trickier feat in Washington’s hot real-estate market and purchase the building from Toole. He’s also unsure when he’ll need the money. Toole isn’t ready to give up the used-book game just yet, Wixon says.