ENCINITAS — Jerry Waddle, 74, has an eye for finding the scarce, the rare, the needle-in-a-haystack.
The proof is at Ducky Waddle’s Emporium, where he’s amassed a large collection of hard-to-find books, pottery, artwork, antiques and collectibles.
“I used to go hunting, and invariably, I would see the game first,” Waddle said. “I would see the deer. I would see the pheasant. One of the things I learned about myself is that I have good vision. I can see things other people miss or see things before others spot them.”
From lowbrow art to alternative fiction to books on tattoo art, Waddle caters to various subcultures.
“You won’t find the newest best seller from Danielle Steel in my store,” Waddle said. “But you may find an out-of-print John Steinbeck or Ernest Hemingway.”
His penchant for collecting began with fine art prints more than five decades ago. An artist, he realized he had a talent for spotting unique pieces.
“I’m a very visual person, and I’m not alone in that regard as far as artists are concerned,” Waddle said. “Artists tend to see shapes and colors differently than other people do. I’ll see a visual pattern in a piece of pottery from 15 feet away and rush toward it for a closer look.”
His senses also point him in the right direction for suitable books for the emporium.
“When I’m looking for books, I see typography and color first, then author and title,” Waddle said.
The approach contrasts with book scouts who rely on barcode scanners to quickly lookup a price in search of profit — a common practice these days.
As another distinguishing factor, only art he likes makes the cut.
“This store is very personal,” Waddle said. “It reflects my taste and vision.”
But what if artwork doesn’t sell?
“I sell some items the day I get them, and other items might take years,” Waddle said. “It doesn’t mean it’s a bad item, it just means the right person hasn’t come in and picked it up yet.”
“I sometimes find myself ahead of the curve,” he added. “I’ll buy merchandise that won’t become popular or well known for years. I was buying merchandise in the 1970s and ‘80s that became rare and collectible in the ‘90s and 2000s.”
Waddle’s taste for underground art has drawn a loyal following over the years. First in Los Angeles, where he opened a successful bookstore in the mid-1980s. Unfortunately, the shop was destroyed in the 1994 Northridge earthquake.
“Thousands of dollars worth of merchandise was ruined,” Waddle said. “It was hard to stomach.”
Waddle and his wife, Joyce, decided to begin anew in Encinitas, opening Ducky Waddles two years later. Spurred by word-of-mouth, business slowly picked up.
“We took a while to catch on, because the store has an edge, and I guess that means I have an edge,” Waddle said with a laugh.
Among his regular customers during Ducky Waddle’s early days: Shepard Fairey, the popular street artist, who was relatively unknown at the time and living in Solana Beach.
After befriending him, Waddle later hosted shows for Fairey at the emporium and even represented him for more than a decade.
“I’ve always provided gallery space for local emerging artists,” he said.
Longtime customer Jim Babwe said he greatly appreciates the emporium’s events, noting he takes part in monthly poetry readings at the spot.
“You’ll find all kinds of great stuff there that isn’t at a place like Barnes and Noble,” Babwe said.
Adding to that thought, author Harry Katz described the emporium as an “oasis for books and other artifacts.”
“He has a vast knowledge of so many topics,” Katz said. “He’s always interesting to talk to and get his perspective.”
While the emporium is well known among locals and in artists’ circles, Waddle freely acknowledged his business has struggled in recent years due to the tough economy.
“The powers that be like to tell us the recession has ended, but it hasn’t ended for me, and it hasn’t ended for a lot of people I know,” Waddle said. “My clientele is struggling. Books may be a psychological necessity, but not a financial necessity.”
Waddle once had two fulltime employees. These days, it’s a one-man show, leaving him to do all of the paperwork, inventory and all of the other responsibilities that come with running a business.
Still, despite the long days, Waddle said he looks forward to opening the shop each morning.
Good jazz, folk and rock tunes are always on the stereo. He enjoys talking books and art with customers, getting to know them. And the entire time, he’s surrounded by his treasure trove.
“A lot of people get up at 6 in the morning, hop on a crowded freeway and go to a job they don’t like,” Waddle said. “That’s not me. I come here because I enjoy being here. Art, music and books are my life.”