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December 28, 2020

Company That Rents Books By the Foot For Decor Purposes Sees Business Boom As Washington DC Talking Heads Call Them Up to Rent Books for the Backgrounds of Their Zoom Calls

The Smartest People in America (TM) don't have real books for the background of their Zoom calls. They have to rent them as props.

In a place like Washington--small, interconnected, erudite, gossipy--being well-read can create certain advantages. So, too, can seeming well-read. The "Washington bookshelf" is almost a phenomenon in itself, whether in a hotel library, at a think tank office or on the walls behind the cocktail bar at a Georgetown house.

And, as with nearly any other demand of busy people and organizations, it can be conjured up wholesale, for a fee.

Books by the Foot, a service run by the Maryland-based bookseller Wonder Book, has become a go-to curator of Washington bookshelves, offering precisely what its name sounds like it does. As retro as a shelf of books might seem in an era of flat-panel screens, Books by the Foot has thrived through Democratic and Republican administrations, including that of the book-averse Donald Trump. And this year, the company has seen a twist: When the coronavirus pandemic arrived, Books by the Foot had to adapt to a downturn in office- and hotel-decor business--and an uptick in home-office Zoom backdrops for the talking-head class.

The Wonder Book staff doesn't pry too much into which objective a particular client is after. If an order were to come in for, say, 12 feet of books about politics, specifically with a progressive or liberal tilt--as one did in August--Wonder Book's manager, Jessica Bowman, would simply send one of her more politics-savvy staffers to the enormous box labeled "Politically Incorrect" (the name of Books by the Foot's politics package) to select about 120 books by authors like Hillary Clinton, Bill Maher, Al Franken and Bob Woodward. The books would then be "staged," or arranged with the same care a florist might extend to a bouquet of flowers, on a library cart; double-checked by a second staffer; and then shipped off to the residence or commercial space where they would eventually be shelved and displayed (or shelved and taken down to read).

Only sometimes do Bowman and Wonder Book President Chuck Roberts know the real identity of the person whose home or project they've outfitted: "When we work with certain designers, I pretty much already know it's going to be either an A-list movie or an A-list client. They always order under some code name," Bowman says. "They're very secretive."


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posted by Ace at 12:22 PM

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