Rare Books, Poker Occupy Former Marketeer

PAYSON PEOPLE

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At first glance, it seems that what you see is what you get with Willie Prest, co-manager of the used bookstore operated by Library Friends of Payson.

But dig beneath the surface of this mild-mannered man and you find out that he dashes into an occasional phone booth and emerges as one of the Three Marketeers, or at least he did before the trio went their separate real estate ways a few years back.

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One of Willie Prest's responsibilities at the Library Friends book store is rare book sales. "I go online and get them appraised to find out what they're worth, and then I list them with an agency on the web," he said. Last year, rare books netted $5,000 for the library.

"It was Mark Thimell, Ken Wagner and me," Prest recalled. "We'd get dressed up and get the swords out and pose for ads."

Prest didn't get into real estate until he moved to the Rim country when his wife, a pharmacist who is about to help open the new Bashas' pharmacy, was offered a job. Before that, he worked for his dad's plumbing business, was an electronics technician, and owned a drug store in Yuma with his wife.

"It was quite a unique drugstore because we also got into health foods and alternative medicines," Prest said. "It was very, very interesting and we had a lot of fun with it."

Prest still does real estate, but his volunteer position at the bookstore takes more and more of his time.

"We're sharing the manager's position because nobody wanted to take the whole responsibility," Prest explained. "My job is the newsletter and the computer work, and I've just recently taken on our rare book sales over the Internet."

In case you're unfamiliar with the bookstore, all proceeds go to support the library. Donated books are priced at $1 to $3 for hardcovers and 25 cents for paperbacks.

But if a book looks valuable, Prest swings into action.

"I go online and get them appraised to find out what they're worth, and then I list them with an agency on the web," he said. "It's amazing: some of the books folks donate here are worth quite a bit of money. Last year we brought in $5,000 on our rare books.

"About two weeks ago, I sold a small children's book to someone in England for $250. It was called ‘Mostly Mary.' It was published in England right around the turn of the century, and it probably had sentimental value for someone."

The website Prest uses to list Library Friends books, by the way, is www.abebooks.com.

"They're a huge website out of Canada," he said. "They list about 6 million books that are available from various sources. When a book sells, Abebooks gets a commission."

Prest's new position fits him perfectly.

"I've been an avid reader all of my life," he said. "When I was a youngster I had to have three different library cards so I could get enough books to read.

"I used my card, my sister's card and my mom's card, and after about a year they allowed me to go into the adult's section because I had read everything in the children's section."

While he hasn't donned his marketeer's outfit in a while, Prest still ducks into a phone booth on occasion -- emerging these days as a tournament poker player.

"One of my favorite hobbies is tournament poker, both live and on the Internet," he said. "I'm trying to get into the world series or one of the big tournaments through those things where you can start for nothing and work your way up."

Prest says he's a pretty good poker player, and doesn't mind sharing the secret of his success.

"You have to use a little strategy, but patience is probably the biggest virtue -- waiting for that decent hand. You might throw away 10, 15, 20 hands before something hits that looks good."

Prest is pleasantly surprised by the increasing popularity of poker.

"It's amazing how big it's gotten, and the payoffs are getting huge," he said. "I think the world series is up to $3-4 million now."

When he's not dabbling in real estate, taking his dog for a walk, working at the bookstore or counting his poker chips, you might find Prest counting his blessings -- to be living in Payson.

"This is just such neat country with the perfect weather," he said. "We're just about in a perfect place."

But there's one place you most likely won't find him.

"One of the things we came up here to do was go fishing, and I think we've been fishing twice," he said.

Profile

Name: Willie Prest

Occupation: Semi-retired Realtor

Age: 68

Birthplace: Moundsville, W.Va.

Family: Wife, Stephanie, three grown children.

Personal motto: Do something -- even if it's wrong.

Inspiration: Gen. Billy Mitchell (aviation pioneer) and Brother Andrew (God's Smuggler).

Greatest feat: Bringing up three accomplished children.

Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Tournament poker, reading, cooking.

Three words that describe me best: Loyal, honest, inquisitive.

I don't want to brag but ... I've got a wonderful wife.

Person in history I'd most like to meet: Science fiction writer Isaac Asimov.

Luxury defined: "A loaf of bread, a glass of wine and thou." (Stephanie)

Dream vacation spot: Bora Bora

Why Payson? The perfect climate and wonderful people.

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