In 1971, the Tattered Cover opened its door — a dutch door, Barnhouse’s book recalls, with the top half usually open on warmer afternoons to let the breeze mingle with the books. The store was on East Second Avenue between Detroit and Fillmore streets and took up less than 1,000 square feet. Stephen Cogil founded the store, and sold it just three years later to Joyce Meskis, who helped usher the independent bookstore into ever-larger spaces over the years in terms of both physical real estate and the hearts of Denver’s citizens.
Last year, the Tattered Cover was sold to another group, including new CEO Kwame Spearman. This anniversary “couldn’t have come at a better time in the trajectory of Tattered Cover," he says. "If you look at what the business has been through in the past eighteen, nineteen months? To be in a position where we’re celebrating the anniversary…setting the business up for another fifty years? It’s really important.”
Still, many of the stories traded at the fiftieth-anniversary event will no doubt focus on where the Tattered has been. When it was the anchor to Cherry Creek North in the old Neusteter's building, below the Fourth Story restaurant. When the original LoDo store opened at the edge of the 16th Street Mall at Wynkoop Street. When the Lowenstein store, where the celebration will be held, joined the lineup. “We’ve done a lot of changing,” says Spearman, “and underneath all that is such a respect for all the amazing things the [Tattered Cover] brand has accomplished. The author of the book did such an impressive job interviewing a number of alumni, gathering their stories. The nostalgia is this: At our core, we love literature. And we’ve spent fifty years sharing that love with the people around us. That’s what’s being talked about in the halls of Tattered Cover, what this book and this event are all about. No one’s done a better job expressing that love of literature than Tattered Cover over the past fifty years.”
“I first encountered the TC in 1980, when I was eighteen and the store was only nine years old,” recalls Barnhouse. “That summer I decided I had to read all of Charles Dickens's novels, in the order they were written, but most stores only stocked a few — and they were all the same ones. Somewhere, and I’m almost certain it was in Westword, I had read about this shop in Cherry Creek that ‘had everything,’ so one day I rode my bike down there and was blown away. I was able to buy a copy of The Pickwick Papers and my Dickens project was off and running. I was hooked.”
Indeed, his book’s Author Index reads like a bibliography of important folks from the late 20th/early 21st centuries. There are authors from all areas of literature (Allen Ginsberg, Judy Blume, Stephen King, Kurt Vonnegut, JK Rowling, Ray Bradbury), some of the most influential political figures of recent years (both Obamas, both Clintons, Jimmy Carter, Madeleine Albright, Al Gore, Dan Quayle, Barbara Bush, Jesse Jackson, John Kerry) and celebrities of a world-affecting status (Fred Rogers, Bob Hope, Shirley Temple Black, Berkeley Breathed, Bruce Springsteen, Dan Rather).
So how does CEO Spearman envision the potential for a hundredth-anniversary celebration, way down the road in 2071? “I think what you’ll see is a physical Tattered Cover space at the heart of many communities throughout Colorado," he responds. "They’ll be community institutions, places where you can not only buy books, but also come together, talk about important issues, meet one another, and be comfortable in a literary space.”
Here’s to the next fifty years: Keep those pages turning.
Celebrate fifty years of the Tattered Cover with Mark A. Barnhouse and special guests at 7 p.m. Thursday, October 28, at the store at 2526 East Colfax Avenue. The author/historian will be joined by former Tattered Cover employees to share memorable moments from the past fifty years. Tickets, which include a copy of Barnhouse's book and guaranteed seating, are $25 (plus fee and tax). Find out more here.