Editorial: Will Barnes & Noble save or destroy Tattered Cover?

Estimated read time 4 min read

Like a favorite book, read and re-read, loaned out, and then pushed off a bookshelf by newer titles, Denver’s Tattered Cover was headed to the landfill.

The independent bookstore was snatched from the trash pile this week – a messy bankruptcy proceeding that documented $1.6 million in debt and $50,000 in unpaid rent — for a second chance.

The immediate threat of closure has been avoided by the bookstore’s sale to global goliath Barnes & Noble, a company with the means to pay off the debt and keep all four remaining Tattered Cover stores open and books on the shelves.

But the death of this institution could come in another way – the whittling away of public spaces, the closing of doors to local authors, and the end to partnerships like the Pen and Podium series.

The Tattered Cover could be rebound beyond recognition, even though the name and location remain the same.

But we are hopeful that will not be the case.

In 2022, The New York Times proclaimed that in the publishing world, Barnes & Noble had gone from ‘villain to hero” in a collective stand by booksellers against Amazon, where shoppers can find the exact book they are looking for at deep discount, but cannot “discover” new titles from obscure authors and small publishers.

The CEO of Barnes & Noble has pushed back on the Walmart-ification of its 600 retail stores in America with the embrace of local flare, much to the chagrin of marketing experts.

All of this is encouraging that Tattered Cover may even return to its 1994 roots when it occupied a two-story warehouse space in the then-ragged LoDo location at 16th and Wynkoop, not with an actual move but with an embrace of Denver’s culture at its remaining stores on East Colfax, in Littleton’s Aspen Grove, in Denver’s International Airport, and the kids’ store in Aurora’s Stanley Marketplace and the store at.

Twenty-eight years ago Tattered Cover was run by Joyce Meskis, a fierce advocate for free speech and a successful entrepreneur who took a small store in Cherry Creek to the top of the New York Times list of best booksellers.

John Hickenlooper and Dan Recht paid tribute to Meskis after her death in 2022 at the age of 80 in an opinion column for The Denver Post that captured exactly what makes Tattered Cover so special:

“Joyce created an ambiance in the Tattered Cover that felt almost like an extension of one’s home. She blended her own love of books and authors with the culture of Denver to create a casual atmosphere that was unique to the city. Antique furniture, hand-picked by Joyce, and bookcases, in the beginning made by her father, were carefully arranged to create private spaces and cozy hideaways.”

Can Barnes and Noble foster that environment?

For almost two decades, the Tattered Cover has partnered with The Denver Post to put on the Pen and Podium series, bringing renowned national authors to speak at local venues and sign books purchased through the book-seller with a portion of ticket-sales and book-sales going to The Denver Post Community Foundation.

Denverites have been graced with the words and ideas of brilliant authors. Next year the series will bring Amy Tan, Bonnie Garmus, Eric Larson, Tommy Orange and Ed Yong to the Neumann Center for Performing Arts.

This is only one small way Tattered Cover supports authors and the community, and we hope Barnes & Noble will expand these and the many other ways the store has become entwined with Colorado.

If they don’t, Coloradans should remember other beloved booksellers. Bookies on South Holly is a public-benefit corporation that gives its profits to Book Give, distributing new and gently used books to schools, libraries and children across the state.

Coloradans love their books with dog-eared pages, coffee-stained covers, and sprawled signatures from local authors  – that’s how we like our book stores too.

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