Metropolitan Booksellers isn't lying when they warn that prices are good for a short time only.
It's not that they jack up the prices. They just leave town.
The traveling discount book fair, which opened in a Glen Burnie mall last week, arrives quietly, sets up shop, and quickly disappears. Like nomads, managers arrive at a temporarily rented office, remain for six weeks, selling large quantities of books, and then head for another location on the East Coast.
"We get books at a discount rate from publishers, mostly overstocks," says Laurie Vadeboncoeur, manager of the temporary business in Glen Burnie.
Hundreds of thousands of books sell for prices that average 75 percent below the publisher's rates. Children's books are always 50 percent off.
The store carries a bit of everything -- textbooks, novels, history books, biographies, cookbooks, crafts, coffee table books, even a few games and children's toys.
Metropolitan isn't a fancy place. Saw-horses hold makeshift tables, separated by temporary partitions. Books are amassed in long, sometimes jumbled rows. Nothing is alphabetized or organized beyond a broad general category.
But the slight inconvenience is worth it. For $5, customers can walk off with a "Treasury of Story and Verse" for children that includes Mother Goose rhymes and fairy tales, as well as favorite short stories by Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne and C. S. Lewis. Another $5 will buy an intriguing and beautifully photographed coffee-table-type collection called "Ghost Towns, Gamblers and Gold."
"The theory is that it's an extravaganza. A fair. We do volume sales, rather than selling a few books. So we keep the time short to keep public interest high," explains Vadeboncoeur.
Metropolitan Booksellers Inc. came into existence a year ago and has expanded to eight fairs running simultaneously, says Tom Demetriades, director of operations. Each location carries at least 250,000 books, and often more, he says.
Eight managers travel with the eight fairs, living out of hotels before moving on to the next location.
"We hire locals as assistant managers and salespeople," says Vadeboncoeur, who arrived with the book fair from the last location in Massachusetts. "You get to know the location, and it's actually kind of fun."
Demetriades points out that the merchandise can differ greatly from fair to fair. At one New England book extravaganza, most of the books for sale were literature and classics.
"We've had stores with a preponderance of a sort of mix, and they definitely aren't all the same," Demetriades says.
The books generally consist of buybacks from publishers, returns from bookstores and special printings, such as a book of short stories published specifically for the holiday season.
So, for a few weeks, the store at 6633 Ritchie Highway attracts attention with a big blue and white striped balloon, and the word SALE in red letters.
"We place an ad in local papers, and we have a big banner. People see it and stop in, and that's how it works," says Vadeboncoeur.
The Glen Burnie fair stays open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. That fair, and a second Metropolitan book fair in Parkville, will remain until the first week in January.