Colorado Authors Consider Tattered Cover's Sale to Barnes &Noble | Westword

Plot Twist: Colorado Authors Assess the Tattered Cover Sale to Barnes & Noble

After fifty years, the legendary independent bookseller could become part of a chain.
A display at the East Colfax Store
A display at the East Colfax Store Tattered Cover
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The recent history of the Tattered Cover is a real page-turner: After forty years of fierce independence, legendary owner Joyce Meskis sells the bookseller to handpicked successors, who face tough competition from chains and then the pandemic, and sell it again to a local group that winds up filing for bankruptcy. The top bidder? The biggest chain of all, Barnes & Noble, which bids $1.8 million; a deadline of July 2 has been set for any objections.

We reached out to Colorado authors to get their take on this plot twist; their responses are sprawling and surprising, full of angst, sorrow, nostalgia and, yes, hope: Tattered Cover is dead; long live Tattered Cover!

Mario Acevedo, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats
For local writers, having a book launch for your debut novel at the TC was definitely a bucket-list publishing goal. I had mine back in 2006 at the LoDo TC, and the event was quite the heady experience. Over the years, my interactions with TC has had its ups and downs, and I wish only the best for those bookworm employees who've hung in there.

Nick Arvin, Mad Boy
By the dollars involved, the Tattered Cover’s role in Denver isn’t a big thing. I don’t know anything about the Tattered Cover’s operating budget, but I would guess that the bottom line isn’t much more than the salary of a single mid-level Broncos player. And yet…everyone in Denver knows the Tattered Cover; everyone has been there to wander the aisles, touch the books and wonder what’s inside. The bookstore is where we go with our best self in mind. Who will I become if I read this book? Or that one? In any city, the largest independent bookstore is unique, quirky, an icon and a repository for the city’s imagination and aspirations. I have nothing against Barnes & Noble, and I hope that the Tattered Cover, or whatever it’s to be called, will continue to be a fine place to find great books. But as it becomes a number in the spreadsheets of a financial portfolio controlled by a corporation headquartered 2,000 miles away, it’s hard to believe it will still feel like the soul of the city.

Mark A. Barnhouse, Tattered Cover Book Store: A Storied History
I’m happy that, unlike some Denver institutions (El Chapultepec, Celebrity Sports Center, Racines, a half-dozen department stores), Tattered Cover will remain on the scene. It’s not Joyce Meskis’s Tattered Cover, however — institutions have to evolve lest they become irrelevant. The negative changes are even more subtle and hard to quantify, other than the obvious one: There’s not enough staff and not enough inventory, not by a long shot. Joyce retired, but so, too, have several other key people who gave Tattered Cover the personality it had in the 1980s, 1990s and early 2000s, and I hope that under this new ownership the store will cultivate new, creative buyers who will build on the legacies of Joyce and others, including Margaret Maupin and Cathy Langer (to mention just two of many).

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Mark Barnhouse wrote the book on Tattered Cover.
Teague Bohlen
Tattered Cover has been an important part of my life for more than four decades. I still remember my first trip to the original Second Avenue store in early August 1980. I was on a mission to read every novel written by Charles Dickens, and was frustrated by my inability to find all of them. I read (in Westword!) about Tattered Cover, so I went down there on my bike, went inside and had my mind blown. Books were piled everywhere — under tables, on top of bookcases, even on the stairway. I walked upstairs to the fiction section, and there was every single novel Charles Dickens ever wrote, from Pickwick to Drood — every single one. At Waldenbooks or B. Dalton, all I could ever find were three or four titles, and not even my old standbys, ABC Books in University Hills Plaza and Hatch’s Books in University Hills Mall, had more than five or six. I remember many nights stopping by after work, spending ninety minutes or two hours browsing and buying. The place just made me happy. Working there for the five and a half years I attended UCD was a wonderful period of my life, probably my favorite job ever (I once sold a copy of Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses to Peter O’Toole! I got to meet David Foster Wallace!). I had many wonderful co-workers who made every day fun and interesting. And when I became a published author, Tattered Cover was the first place that hosted a book signing for me, in August or September 2010, in LoDo’s second-floor events room, working with the kind and generous Charles Stillwagon, who used to run their events. Writing Tattered Cover Book Store: A Storied History was icing on the cake.

Jon Bassoff, Beneath Cruel Waters
As a kid growing up in Boulder, it was always a special day when my family drove to the immense Tattered Cover bookstore in Cherry Creek. We would spend hours wandering through the giant rooms filled with tens of thousands of books and would all come home with armfuls of books, books that we couldn't find in the shopping mall chain stores. In fact, it was at the Tattered Cover where I discovered Jim Thompson, a 1950s crime fiction writer who inspired me to write my first novel. Years later, seeing one of my own books on the shelves near those Jim Thompson novels was one of the great thrills of my life. So, yeah, it feels as if something crucial is being torn away from the city and my past. I now live in Longmont, and I'm thankful that we have our own little independent bookstore, Barbed Wire Books. I'm hopeful that one won't be gobbled up as well.

Dan Beachy-Quick, Of Silence and Song
I grew up outside Denver, and the Tattered Cover, from high school through my college days, was where I went to discover poetry, and to begin to figure out being a poet myself. In those years it had an incredible collection of poetry and literary journals, and it was a kind of wondrous education to browse the shelves. I remember reading George Oppen there for the first time, a poet who changed my life. It’s a real sadness to me to know that a corporate entity has taken over a beloved independent bookstore, but its shelves, cafe and comfy seats all will still be the very archetype of what a bookstore is for me.

David Boop, Straight Outta Tombstone
TC filled a specific niche in Denver's literary space. I saw and met many big-name authors in a classic-style atmosphere. TC's signings/readings felt more like a library than a bookstore. It was more intimate than a BN. Not that everything about TC was perfect. I always had a hard time getting them to carry any of my titles, even those distributed by major publishers. They charged way too much for a book signing, which scared away a lot of smaller publishers from setting up events there. That didn't take away the magic from being in any of their locations, though. Before I built my creative collective, I used to hop around to different places to write. I loved writing both at LoDo and Colfax. The ambience of being surrounded by so many books and readers was conducive to creating. Plus, they made a killer chai latte!
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The Tattered Cover flagship on Colfax might soon also carry the Barnes & Noble label.
Teague Bohlen
R. Alan Brooks, The Mask in Your Dreams
TC has been a home for local book lovers, with a passionate staff that has excitedly supported my work as an author. Under previous owners Len Vlahos and Kristen Gilligan, my first book, The Burning Metronome, was enthusiastically recommended to customers, and I was invited to participate in many of their TC-sponsored events. So I have a lot of fondness for the place. Obviously, we don't know how it will be affected by B&N's acquisition, but I know that a lot of locals are upset about the change of ownership.

Jill Carstens, Getting Over Vivian
After college, I lived in Capitol Hill and would often find myself riding my bike over to First and Milwaukee to get my TC fix. Who would have thought that books would become sexy enough to justify a four-story building in a high-end part of town? Sexy, but so welcoming in its conviction of “Everyone gets to read.” I discovered new worlds while wandering Tattered Cover, my own version of an affordable staycation. I would spend hours there, sometimes with my then-boyfriend, John. We would sit side by side on that green carpet poring over pages and pages, ultimately heading to the cashier with a stack to take home. That place just kept giving back. Not long ago, I was at the Colfax location, and a memory of John bubbled up in my brain as I headed to the cash register desk. I had an urge to look for him, just in case. What do you know? I didn’t search long. There he was, in the children’s section, juggling his two young daughters…what a full circle. I will take that as my final memory. So sad to see this legacy vanish with so many other icons of the city…kind of like losing a grandparent.
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The well-remembered stairs of the old Cherry Creek location.
Phil Goodstein, The Scenic History of Denver Cemeteries
Tattered Cover never recovered after it was pushed out of its Cherry Creek North location. At its new home, along with its lower downtown branch, it increasingly cut back on its stock whereby both the Colorado Boulevard and 16th Street branches of Barnes & Noble had a better stock than did Tattered Cover. This had the effect of driving away people who wished to browse in a wonderland of books.

Political correctness has been a thorn at Tattered Cover under the Bended Page, the partnership that bought the store from Vlahos and Gilligan. It was never clear that the chief partner, Kwame Spearman, wanted to restore Tattered Cover to its grandeur or advertise himself as a successful Black capitalist while promoting his aspiring political career. All the while, Barnes & Noble has become an ever-growing monopoly that increasingly grabs all aspects of the book business. Its takeover of Tattered Cover is another way Denver has repeatedly sold its soul whereby the community is owned by outside banks, utilities, department stores, and now, bookstores.

Stephen Graham Jones, Don't Fear the Reaper
I'm just glad Tattered Cover is going to keep going. Here in Boulder a while back, our amazing hardware store McGuckin's somehow, for reasons I don't know, sort of became an Ace Hardware for a while — could have been a similar situation, where a big indie shades over into corporate? But it was still "McGuckin's." Some of the aisles changed to fit some other pattern, but the same stuff was still there. Only big difference was you now had an Ace Hardware loyalty account. The green vests and the service and the intangibles and peculiarities we all knew and loved were intact, though. Guessing that's what's going to happen here with the Tattered Cover. I've been doing events and going to events there for better than fifteen years, and, of course, shopping those shelves the whole time as well. I'm always jealous of the people who remember other, earlier versions of the store, too — that Cherry Creek flagship location, right? For me, though, the version since 2008 is the version. I'm guessing for people moving to town next summer, this new Tattered Cover, which should have a lot of continuity from what it's been for so long, will be the version. Places change, it's natural, but the character persists. And mostly, I'm just glad I can still go to Tattered Cover and run my eyes along all these books and find people I know and new stories to lose myself in. As for McGuckin's, I'm actually not even sure anymore if it's still Ace Hardware or not. It's just McGuckin's, now and, hopefully, always.

Michael Henry, poet and executive director at Lighthouse Writers Workshop
I’ve always absolutely loved the Tattered Cover ever since we moved to Denver in 1997. It’s been difficult to watch the bookstore try and weather the challenges it’s faced, and at times I’d hoped that someone would reach out for advice, or at least commiseration. I’m certainly not an expert in retail bookselling, but it was clear to me that TC had strayed from its true mission as a place for folks who love books to connect — with one another, with authors, and with the often unexpected and alchemical ways that independent bookstores encourage new discoveries to happen, whether it be new authors or under-the-radar books. What I hope is that Barnes & Noble truly understands what a jewel the Tattered Cover is, and how it brings much more to Denver’s culture than merely selling books. It’s one of those rare institutions that makes Denver interesting and brings us together — in words and stories.
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The 16th Street location was one of the city's favorites.
David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Winter Counts
The Tattered Cover has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. In my view, any transaction that allows it to continue is a positive one, especially in light of the closing of other bookstores in the Denver area. Furthermore, it’s my understanding that Barnes & Noble has transformed its business model and is now very community-focused. So, I’m in favor of the sale, and I wish TC many more decades serving our literary community.

Gregory Hill, East of Denver
After suffering a long period of illness, the patient has been removed from life support.

Erika Krouse, Tell Me Everything
I used to treat the Tattered Cover like it was my private reading room, sitting in the armchairs for hours and reading book after book, only able to afford one or two. You could ask staff members impossible questions — "What's the name of that novel with a pet monkey in it?" — and they always knew. NyQuil-green carpet, the smell of paper, the love of books.... I saw Mary Oliver do a standing-room-only reading there, and people randomly shouted out poem titles as requests: "Wild Geese!" "The Summer Day!" I just can't imagine these things happening at a large retail chain.

James LaRue, On Censorship
My first introduction to Tattered Cover was at its Cherry Creek location. I think the store, back then, had something like 150,000 titles. While browsing, I often ran across political luminaries like Gary Hart and Dottie Lamm. When we opened the Highlands Ranch Library in Douglas County, we asked TC founder Joyce Meskis to speak, and we acknowledged our attempt to capture the homey, rocking-chair-and-comfy-couch atmosphere she pioneered. Since Joyce's death, it's been painful to watch TC's struggles. I'm hoping that the Barnes & Noble purchase will provide stability and sustainability for her legacy.
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Poet Bobby LeFebre remembers the community.
Bobby LeFebre
Bobby LeFebre, Colorado Poet Laureate Emeritus
If Denver is anything more than what it is becoming, it is a graveyard to what it’s been. The sale of Tattered Cover to Barnes & Noble is unfortunate but on brand. What’s sad is that the sale price is comparable to some of the houses on my block. Running an independent bookstore in the age of rampant consumerism and unholy technological dominance is no small feat. It requires an unwavering love for literature but also a resilience against the onslaught of machines like Amazon, which reduce books and literature, and therefore writers, to mere commodities. The Tattered Cover was more than a bookstore to many. It was a community, a shared experience, a testament to the power of human connection through stories. I don’t know what we hold sacred anymore. The machine keeps digging its teeth into the heart of our institutions. The dust of the debris rises into the air like a last breath — the jettisoning of life once contained in a body. A whole soul being carried away in the body bag of transaction.

Liz Prato, Kids in America: A Gen X Reckoning
It's been kind of like watching a beloved acquaintance struggle with a chronic illness for the last several years. They'd have periods of remission and it would seem they'd been saved, but then the illness would eventually re-emerge. It's hard to know if Barnes & Noble represents the cure or the death of Tattered Cover. I'm a huge fan of indie bookstores — my husband has worked at one for over twenty years — so I don't take this lightly. But I do know that there's a difference between one small indie storefront, like TC was when I was a kid, and an indie that has several large locations. They operate more like big businesses, and it seems recent owners weren't prepared for the full scope of that. Maybe B&N can make Tattered Cover thrive again.

David R. Slayton, Dark Moon Shallow Sea
I hate losing an independent space, but I also think it's important that they survive as a brand. They're a touchstone in the community. I hadn't even moved to Denver when I first heard of the store. Someone in Dallas gave me one of their ballpoint pens and told me I had to go. That was 1996, and from the moment I set foot on that green carpet at the old Cherry Creek location, I knew I wanted to write a book and have an event there. The Tattered Cover, in all of its iterations, has been an important part of my life, as both a reader and an author. I hope this version is a success.

Nancy Stohlman, Going Short
Tattered Cover first broke my heart when that Cherry Creek location finally fell to the Cherry Creek overlords, then again with the more recent closing of the beautiful, wood-floored downtown location (which had been gradually shrinking for years, first losing the top floor, then the whole store). And it continues.

We all know it’s a bigger trend, of course — the homogenization of art. The collapse of indie leaders like Tattered Cover to economic realities is sending necessary ripples and warnings through the communities: Our current model of indie publishers and bookstores is no longer sustainable. Keeping the Tattered Cover trademarking is a mercy — for now. Especially for the current employees. But what will that mean in the future — a new trend of homegrown, small-batch bookstore facades, mega-companies indulging our nostalgia as compensation for our true losses? And what does it mean for the last hilltop holdouts — should we designate the remaining indie bookstores as National Historic sites, the way Paris has done with the book stalls along the Seine?

The writing has been on the wall for a long time, and while Barnes & Noble may be providing a temporary Band-Aid, I think the real question writers and readers should be asking is: What does this trend mean for our future as creatives, and are we okay with those answers? If not, then the time to actively re-vision our community and our industry is now. Our creativity is always our greatest asset at this and every crossroads. So let’s use it.

Steve Rasnic Tem, Figures Unseen
I always try to hope for the best, so I'm hoping that in the end the result is still a great bookstore, but I still have some sadness and anxiety about this sale. Independent bookstores are essential to our culture. In my experience, it has been the independents who have nurtured and supported writers the most. I have wonderful memories of the Tattered Cover. Not only have I spent a great deal of money there, but their literary events have always been enlightening. I've participated in a number of signings at their various stores, and my late wife, Melanie, and I launched our novel The Man in the Ceiling at the LoDo branch. I hope this Denver institution can continue in some recognizable form.

Carter Wilson, The Father She Went to Find
Very mixed emotions about what’s happening with Tattered Cover, especially after the closing of BookBar. Indie bookstores are the lifeblood of the publishing industry, so it’s always distressing when financial hardships force change. However, I’m heartened to read B&N intends to keep the Tattered Cover name and its staff, and I’m thankful they’ll be keeping the stores open and thriving. I’ve done several book launches at the Tattered Cover, and they’ve always treated authors and readers with the greatest respect.

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Erika Wurth hopes the spirit stays alive.
Evan Semón Photography
Erika Wurth, White Horse
My first memory of the Tattered Cover is of the dreamlike, book-filled mansion in the Cherry Creek location. My father used to take me year after year as a child, and I would climb the massive stairs to the nerd section and sit for hours, wondering which science fiction, fantasy or horror book to spend my babysitting money on. When it moved locations and I became a writer myself, TC hosted me for book after book, even for those little small-press books that didn’t go anywhere, and finally, it was the location I felt the most pride when hosted for White Horse. I just want Tattered Cover to stay open, and of all the buyers, it strikes me that Barnes & Noble can make that happen. Barnes & Noble has been extremely good to me and my book. They’re committed to brick-and-mortar. They’re committed to books. As long as they keep the brand of the spirit alive of the original TC, I’m happy.
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