Tattered Cover Meets The Congressional Record

September 22, 1989, by US Senator Tim Wirth (D-CO)

See full text below the graphic:

TATTERED COVER BOOK STORE (Senate - September 22, 1989)
[Page: S11722]
Mr. WIRTH. Mr. President, Colorado is a most unique and marvelous State. It is a State of majestic mountains, rolling rivers, wide plains, vibrant cities, and the Tattered Cover Book Store.

Yes, I include the Tattered Cover as one of Colorado's treasures. Step through its door and you are immediately transported to a world of literature, of art, of learning. Just about any book that you could want to read, can be found at the Tattered Cover--from the best seller to the obscure.

Recently, the New York Times discovered the Tattered Cover and wrote of its remarkable success as an independent bookstore despite competition from nationwide chain outlets. I would like to share that article with my colleagues and recommend that the next time they are in Denver, to be sure to drop by the Tattered Cover. I am sure a book waits there for you.

The article follows:


Bookstore Thrives on Independence


Denver, July 12: This city by the Rocky Mountains is better known for skiing than scholarship. It has far fewer people than New York or Los Angeles; lacks the vibrant academic community of the San Francisco Bay area or Boston, and ranked 17th in per-capita bookstore sales.

But Denver has one thing no other city has--the Tattered Cover Book Store, which many people in the book business consider the best general bookstore in the United States.

`It is simply one of the great bookstores of the Western world,' said Jason Epstein, the editorial director of Random House.

David R. Godine, the Boston publisher, agreed. `It is a magnificent bookstore that both satisfies and helps create a hunger for good books in this country.'


By all accounts, the Tattered Cover is just about in a class by itself. Yet publishers and booksellers see it as a symbol of the resurgence of independent bookstores after a decade of financial decline and eclipse by the giant chain stores.

In the last few years, dozens of independent bookstores have opened in smaller cities and towns across the country, and many of the older stores and newcomers are flourishing, the 7,000-member American Booksellers Association says.

The once-explosive growth of the chain stores, like B. Dalton and Waldenbooks, has slowed, publishers say. And since many of their outlets are in shopping malls, they have been forced to emphasize highly marketable books in order to pay the costly rents.

So readers who crave an obscure book of poetry or 18th-century Dutch history are increasingly turning to a growing number of well-stocked, well-run independent bookstores like the Tattered Cover, as well as Borders in Ann Arbor, Mich., Oxford Books in Atlanta and the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, VT.

Many of these stores boast annual sales exceeding $1 million and, presumably, have profits in line with such sales.


The chains remain formidable, of course, accounting for some 35 to 40 percent of the estimated $5 billion in sales at bookstores.

The chains also remain the principal outlet for commercial fiction, but the independents are showing a remarkable ability to make best sellers of their own.

`The independent stores made nearly every recent best seller we've had from Tracy Kidder's `House' to E.D. Hirsch's `Cultural Literacy' to Ethan Canin's `Emperor of the Air,' said Marley Rusoff, the director of publicity for the Houghton Mifflin Company.

Their growing strength is all the more remarkable since most independents, unlike the chain stores, do not often discount best sellers. Their success appears to be linked to their broader selection, as well as to direct owner involvement in the business, personalized service and intimate involvement in local cultural life. Indeed, many independents have become cultural centers, offering everything from autographing sessions to readings to seminars.

`Until a few years ago, not many publishers came by to visit us,' said Joyce Meskis, the owner of the Tattered Cover. `But now they are paying much more attention to independent bookstores.'

The Tattered Cover is almost always bustling with customers and activity. While Ms. Meskis declined to give sales figures, industry officials estimated them at $6 million to $8 million a year.

The store has achieved remarkable results by maintaining a huge stock of books published months and even years ago and a large staff, averaging 170 full-time employes, that is attentive to detail.

The Tattered Cover is housed in a three-story renovated department store in a shopping complex four miles from downtown Denver and three miles from the nearest chain bookstore. Unlike the typical chain bookstore, which occupies 2,500 to 3,000 square feet and carries 20,000 titles, the Tattered Cover is a 41,700-square-foot cornucopia of more than 400,000 books ranging from the Loeb Classical Library of Latin and Greek to books on channeling and spiritual healing.

A fold-out map lists 42 general subject areas, including literary criticism and metaphysics, but the store also covers numerous special areas like Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk who died in 1968, or the complete list of books from North Point Press, the small literary house in Berkeley, Calif.

With that much space, books are not crammed into corners and out-of-the way spaces as they are in many other stores. On the contrary, books and some 1,200 periodicals are attractively displayed in a labyrinth of accessible nooks and crannies, where browsers can settle into overstuffed armchairs and couches--or can rest their eyes while playing checkers.

`We want to provide a living-room atmosphere, so that people will feel at home,' said Ms. Meskis, a Chicagoan who moved to Denver in 1962 and bought the Tattered Cover 12 years later. The store is a far cry from the first Tattered Cover, which had only 950 square feet, two employees and sometimes endured long periods without making a sale.

The Tattered Cover, which is open every day except for six holidays a year, now handles as many as 2,500 transactions on an average day and needs three switchboards to deal with the 24 telephone lines. It has 15 buyers for its backlist, which provides the vast majority of its sales, and four people who buy current titles.

The store averages about 300 special orders a day, many on its toll-free telephone number. Requests include everything from a little-known collection of writings by and about Kate Chopin to a history of the Ukraine published in Canada. (It was able on a recent day to fill both those requests.)

Children's books are big sellers for the store, which features weekly story hours, a summer reading club, poetry contests for children and prose contests for young adults.

Psychology books are also popular, as are books about recovery from addictions.


Moreover, while the store does not sell at discount or stock used books, its extensive section of bargain books--remainders and books produced especially for bargain bins--accounts for 6 percent of sales. Fiction accounts for more than 7 percent of total sales.

Ms. Meskis said the store is so committed to fiction that it always keeps new fiction titles on the first floor, in the high traffic area. It has an extensive section of older fiction titles on the third floor.

Among the novelists who have appeared at the store in recent weeks, to autograph or read, are Tony Hillerman, T. Coraghessan Boyle, Susan Minot, Sara Peretsky, Lynne Sharon Schwartz, Douglas Adams and Leon Uris.

Margaret Maupin, a buyer who also coordinates the autographing sessions, displayed a calendar filled with events, ranging from autograph sessions and readings to seminars on the future of space.

`About the only time we won't book an author,' she said, `is on the day of a Broncos football game.'

In her modest one-room office in the basement, Ms. Meskis said she had turned down requests to franchise the Tattered Cover, which she said was `still getting its sea legs.' But she sounded more receptive to the notion of opening additional stores of her own.

`I think a lot about it,' she said. `But right now, we're not through here yet, so we're not quite ready to expand.'