Readings and signings are almost daily events at this unique literary establishment. In one recent period, the Tattered Cover's book lovers could meet such a diverse group of talents as John Irving, Larry McMurtry, John Denver, baseball player Keith Hernandez, scientist Murray Gellmann, Mikal Gilmore, Dan Quayle, and Barbara Bush. They could also meet Gail Gilchriest, who wrote a book with the intriguing title The Cowgirl Companion: Big Skies, Buckaroos, Honky Tonks, Lonesome Blues, and Other Glories of the True West.
What is it about the Tattered Cover that makes it one of Denver's leading tourist attractions, even luring skiers going to and from nearby Vail and Aspen? National magazines and newspapers have written numerous articles about this book retailing phenomenon. The legendary New York book editor Jason Epstein has called the Tattered Cover, "One of the great bookstores of the Western World." Let's see why it's unique.
The story of the Tattered Cover is the story of its guiding spirit, Joyce Meskis. Meskis started the Tattered Cover in 1974 in a hole-in-the- wall in downtown Denver, expanded it seven times at its original site, moved it to a more spacious location across the street, and, in 1986, ultimately settled into a four-story former department store across from an upscale shopping center. Such is the loyalty of Joyce Meskis's customers that two hundred of them showed up to move books into the store's present location.
Meskis succeeded in a business that works on a minuscule profit margin (from 1 to 5 percent) by applying a management philosophy of attention to customer service and achieving the loyalty of customers and staff. Add to these factors the Tattered Cover's huge selection of books. One Boston publisher, David Godine, has said, "The Harvard Business School should have the Joyce Meskis endowed chair of customer service and common sense."
As of this writing, the Tattered Cover has fifty thousand square feet of retail space, stocks 220,000 different titles, and has a total of about six hundred thousand books from ninety-six hundred publishers. It employs 350 people. The store takes from 350 to 600 special orders a day, and has a switchboard with twenty-two lines, ten of them WATS lines. Although no official financial figures are issued, the Tattered Cover serves two thousand to five thousand customers a day and has an estimated annual sales volume of more than $8 million.
Almost 10 percent of the store is devoted to reduced-price books, including over sized picture books like Day in the Life of America, which you can buy for $19.98. There is also an extensive collection of first novels and books from small and university presses. A large area of the store is devoted to a selection of twelve hundred newspapers and magazines from the United States and abroad, including Russia, Japan, Italy, and Ireland.
Lounging and comfortable browsing is encouraged at the Tattered Cover, with dozens of overstuffed chairs scattered about the store. Owner Joyce Meskis says of this policy, "It's very intentional; bookstores for many people can be intimidating places...we try to make the environment similar to their own living room, nothing too fancy, comfortable."
The store's wall space is decorated with literary memorabilia and black-and-white photographs of authors. One may even run into "Charlie," a realistic full-size statue of a grandfatherly man, sitting in a chair and reading a newspaper.
Merchandising and Promotion Policies
The Tattered Cover has introduced such practices as ordering unstocked books without deposit or prepayment; an out-of-print search service, ordering books by phone, free gift wrapping, corporate and academic charge accounts, and a book registry for friends who wish to give a customer a gift.
The store has been highly innovative in its promotion. It issues a newsletter periodically highlighting new and unusual books, and also distributes Rumpus Review, a seasonal newsletter for children, which includes forthcoming events and book reviews written by children.
Twice-a-week children's story times and writing contests for young people are held.
The Tattered Cover hires people from seventeen to seventy years of age. The pay scale is about the same as at other retail stores in the area-low-but employees are treated with respect, and are imbued with the store's predominant tradition of customer service. Employees undergo a two-week training program, which includes a video, "The Good, the Bad, and the OK." Some highlights: Don't correct mispronounced titles or names, don't dwell on the store being so big (people tend to root for the underdog), rise to greet a customer, and if a book isn't available, refer to another store that may have it or offer to order it. All these policies are part of Joyce Meskis's mission to make the world a better place by making readers of more people.
One industry observer commented that the Tattered Cover is a sign that an independent bookstore, when managed well, can bury the chains. The Tattered Cover and other fine independent bookstores like Portland's Powell's, Los Angeles's Book Soup, Atlanta's Oxford Book Stores, and Books and Books in Coral Gables, Florida, epitomize these formidable competitors.