LoDo's Tattered Cover Leaves Behind a Literary Legacy

LoDo Tattered Cover manager Derek Holland.
LoDo Tattered Cover manager Derek Holland. Annika Mikkelson
The historic LoDo location of the Tattered Cover is closing on Wednesday, March 17, moving off 16th Street and over a few blocks to the new McGregor Square development adjacent to Coors Field. The new space, slated to open in May, will encompass approximately 6,500 square feet on the first two levels of the private residence structure at 20th and Wazee streets, boasting a grand staircase harking back to the original Tattered Cover in Cherry Creek.

And longtime LoDo manager Derek Holland will be making the move as well. Holland has been with the Tattered Cover for over thirty years, and is looking forward to many more.

“I’m excited for a brand-new store where people can come and enjoy themselves and create memories," Holland says. “The space will be beautiful and inviting, and I’m excited to introduce both our longtime and new customers to it. I’m also looking forward to being a part of a collection of businesses again; I think COVID especially made me miss that kind of camaraderie.”

Stocking the new space will be achieved in part by a Tattered Cover “bookworm,” a line of socially distanced customers passing the very last book from the 16th Street location — person by person, block by block — into Tattered's new home at McGregor Square. Sign-up for the event will be available at the LoDo spot until it closes its doors on March 17, after which the TC plans to move it online.

We sat down with Holland to look back at the history of the LoDo Tattered Cover and look forward to what’s to come just a few blocks — and a whole other world — away.

Westword: So much to miss at the LoDo Tattered Cover. Can you remind us of the history of that spot before the bookstore?

Derek Holland: Tattered Cover’s LoDo store was originally built in the 1890s. It’s the old C.S. Murray Mercantile, and some of the old jars, spices, brooms and linens are still in the store. The distributor for the mercantile eventually went west of the Mississippi, and not much happened until 1991, when Tattered Cover bought the property. The bookstore opened in 1994; it was one floor at first, then went up to three floors a couple years later, and is now back to one floor, with an event space of which lots of people have great memories.

With only two primary owners, the building has seen a lot of stories over the years.

Tattered Cover was the first stop on the Dark Side of Denver ghost tour. I’m not personally well=versed on ghosts, but I’ve heard from people who have stories of feeling a presence, things moving, etc. Given that the building has been there since the 1890s, it makes sense that some unfortunate souls may still be here.

From those early days of the bookstore, we are very fortunate for a former bookseller named Matt Sullivan, who has gone on to bigger things including writing a book, Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore. The truth of working in our LoDo bookstore is really captured in that book.

And many of my favorite moments were the events. Long before he was even running for president, Barack Obama came to promote his first book. In 2008, when the DNC was in town, the bookstore was host to a lot of the personalities that follow around a political convention. We had some interesting folks stop by, and it was a memorable time.

Bill Clinton visited on September 20, 1995 — that was the only time a sitting president of the United States came to any Tattered Cover store. The Secret Service came in and gave us a twenty-to-thirty-minute heads-up that the doors had to be locked because the president was coming. So if you were in, you were in, and if you're out, you’re out. We have a couple pictures of him browsing in the bookstore. For me, meeting President Clinton was surreal; in that moment, when he’s giving you his undivided attention, it feels so rare, so special. I’m not sure what that quality is called, but he was incredibly capable of creating that feeling.

Finally, we had a customer named Jack Britton who enjoyed playing chess at Tattered Cover. He actually passed away in the store. It’s a sad story, but at the same time, his family and I like to think of it as a place that he loved. There is a plaque that honored him; it was on an antique chair here, and we’ve since relocated it to the Colfax store.
click to enlarge The nearly departed 16th & Wazee location of the Tattered Cover. - SARAH WILCOX
The nearly departed 16th & Wazee location of the Tattered Cover.
Sarah Wilcox
That list of memories focused on the closure of the LoDo Tattered Cover almost reads like a list of reasons to stay there. What are the upsides of the move for longtime Tattered Cover patrons and new customers alike?

It’s fun to be around long enough to see things come full circle. I grew up in Denver, and there wasn’t much in this part of town. When it opened in 1994, the LoDo bookstore was an island, with no shuttle stop, at the wrong end of the 16th Street Mall. The memories people have come from the work of a lot of people over the years and the great support of our customers, both local and around the world. It reminds me of how some people thought the Colfax location wasn’t going to work as well as it has, and it’s so cool how the bookstore could be a part of these changes.

When we had to make a similar decision, moving from the beloved Cherry Creek location to the Colfax store, there were a lot of similar feelings, and I saw how that move was the only way for the business to have a future. This move allows us to continue to have a business in the way that we enjoy, and people can continue to bring their kids here and have a whole new generation of people able to grow up and have the bookstore. It really is the people who work here, the customers and the authors.

Part of the move is the “bookworm” tradition in which the customers get to take part; how did that get started?

The idea came from earlier moves, where it was out of necessity. The Cherry Creek North store moved twice within about a block, and each time, a movement of books, like a bookworm, was created to physically transport the inventory to the new store. When we moved from Cherry Creek to Colfax, people volunteered to move the books. It was really special to see our amazing customers help us in a time when we really needed them. The bookworm is a continuation of that tradition.

How many people have signed up so far? How will you handle the social distancing?

We don’t have the exact number of people signed up, but we are very pleased with the interest so far and are hoping for many more sign-ups in the upcoming weeks. We are still figuring out all of the logistics, but safety is our number-one priority. We will absolutely follow all of the guidelines, provide necessary PPE and maintain social distance. The bookworm will also coordinate with a timed entry into the new location (rather than everyone rushing the door at once) to protect the safety of our customers and staff.

You've just been chosen to join the American Booksellers Association's Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Committee; what will your role be there, and how will it reflect on the new Tattered Cover?

It’s not just the “new Tattered Cover” but part of a new world, as I’d like to think, since this past summer. We’re all grappling with issues in the publishing industry and society as a whole: making sure that everyone is celebrated when they come into a space and that everybody has a stake in that space. I’ve seen a commitment to this throughout Tattered Cover’s history, but it is especially an interest of the current ownership. Anything that I can do to support the values of the bookstore as this country is looking to become grounded in its values again is something I’m very much interested in. This is the industry that I've been fortunate to stay in for a long period of time, and I’m grateful to help out in any way that I can.

My ongoing participation will be in the committee’s periodic meetings; it’s a two-year commitment, and I’ll know more after I join for the first committee meeting in April. In the meantime, I’ve already had a couple publishers reach out to me with regard to this role. Everybody who loves books and loves putting books and people together is looking to see how we can celebrate all people, and I’m excited to know more.

Share with us your favorite moment from the LoDo store; what was that day you'll never forget?

It’s hard to pick one, because there have been so many great events and special days here. It was neat being here with Jimmy Carter, who signed books so fast that if we weren’t moving people through the line, he was tapping me on the arm saying we needed to pick up the pace. It was a challenge to keep people moving — there were times where I’d walk with someone and maybe have an arm behind them because they were so star-struck and moving very slowly. At one point, an individual came in who clearly had a history with Carter and was familiar to him; he had been injured while serving overseas, and after moving so fast, Carter was then able to just slow down and be so present with him. He gave his undivided attention. It was amazing to witness.

But I’ve also really enjoyed the times when the store has pulled together to do something difficult. Not just those of us on the sales floors, but people behind the scenes, in leadership, marketing, the cafe. I remember one time when we switched our inventory process, which was an incredible amount of work, but it was such a relief to the store once all was said and done. It was a nightly process that would go on into the mornings, and I remember coming in one night and leaving at 8 a.m. or 9 a.m., well after the sun came up. Those moments of coming together as a team, across all of the departments, are some of my fondest memories.

What’s your fondest memory of the Tattered Cover LoDo? Share it with us at [email protected]. And for more information on all things Tattered Cover, bookmark the store's website.
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Teague Bohlen is a writer, novelist and professor at the University of Colorado Denver. His first novel, The Pull of the Earth, won the Colorado Book Award for Literary Fiction in 2007; his textbook The Snarktastic Guide to College Success came out in 2014. His new collection of flash fiction, Flatland, is available now.
Contact: Teague Bohlen