- The Washington Times - Friday, January 4, 2002

On a good day, it's just about impossible for book enthusiast Jacques Morgan to see out the back of his beat-up old Volvo station wagon. Today is one of those days when he has purchased so many books that his car is packed.

Mr. Morgan owns and operates Idle Time Books, a used-book store located in the heart of Adams Morgan, with his wife, Val. Today he is hauling back his latest finds about eight large boxes full of books purchased from St. Alban's thrift store in Northwest.

"Books are real cheap," says the ponytailed 51-year-old, a cigarette hanging from his lip. "Most people just give away their books."

This is a busy time of year for book seekers like Mr. Morgan. People are unloading their old books to charities in an attempt to get tax breaks or just to clean out their homes for the long winter. He has spent about $150 on this trip alone, and he's going out on another "book buy" later. He stocks up like this on a regular basis, raiding thrift stores, large charity book sales and even the estates of the recently deceased. He doesn't seem to mind if he buys more books than he eventually sells.

"I've always been a collector," says Mr. Morgan, who opened Idle Time in 1981. "You should see my apartment. There's books all over the place. It's a pretty good life, really. I get to work around books."

Back at the store, Mr. Morgan unloads his Volvo and immediately begins pricing his books for sale at the front counter of the store. Paperbacks are half the list price, meaning a book he may have picked up for 50 cents can earn him a tidy profit. He marks the prices of hardbacks in pencil on the inside cover. These prices he adjusts according to the value and general availability of the book, information he generally knows off the top of his head.

"I must have looked at twenty million books you just go through them and hopefully you get something that sells," he says. "If you can get it at a book sale, and cheap, I pick it up and try to sell it. If it's something valuable, I'll pick it up."

Idle Time Books is three stories full of shelves with books that could satisfy any interest. Hardback versions of the works of Leo Tolstoy and Goethe's "Faust" share company with Stephen King and John Grisham paperbacks. But there is an unexpected order to the store. Shelves are clearly marked, and the books are more or less in alphabetical order. Even the most remote corners of the store are clean and brightly lit. The stereotypical bookshop image, featuring dusty piles and dark closets of old magazines and records, simply doesn't apply here.

"That is romantic," Mr. Morgan admits. "But I don't really like that."

Indeed, while Mr. Morgan does sport a rather bohemian look ripped jeans, flannel shirts he doesn't consider himself a typical bookstore owner. He loves collecting books, but only casually reads what he's interested in and doesn't let the business consume him.

"A lot of people who own bookstores are interested in books only," he says. "Their whole focus on life is collecting and buying. They're book nerds, really. I never really talk about books with people."

Mr. Morgan says his interests lie not in the typical classic texts, but in popular culture. He enjoys discussing movies, music and even comic books. His once vast collection of comics earned him a cool $100,000.

But his own interests don't dictate the types of books he puts in the store.

"It doesn't matter what I like, it depends on what sells," he says.

In 1971, Mr. Morgan earned a degree in sociology from Ohio's Bowling Green State University, now home of the unique and highly regarded Center for Popular Culture Studies. This educational background gives him the breadth of knowledge needed to run a bookstore that caters to every interest, he says. His experience growing up as an Air Force brat living all over the country and Europe helps as well.

"You have to know a little bit about everything," he says.

When things are going as they should, Idle Time pulls in about $400 in sales on a weekday, $700 on Sundays and about $1,000 on Saturdays. But Mr. Morgan admits sales began to slow after September 11.

"Ever since the bombing, a lot of people haven't been coming from out of town," he says. "And people don't want to spend $30 for a book."

But Mr. Morgan says there's always a market for more used-book stores, and he wouldn't mind seeing more come into the District.

Mr. Morgan is the current president of the Washington Antiquarian Booksellers Association, a group founded to publicize the used-book trade in the area. He is on the verge of releasing a new membership guide.

"There may be ten or twenty thousand new books every year," Mr. Morgan says. "If I don't have it, [another bookstore] will have it. The more bookstores you have in the area the better, really."

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