Shelving a career
Langer, after 40 years with Tattered Cover, is turning the page
When Cathy Langer first interviewed for a job at Tattered Cover, owner Joyce Meskis asked her to commit to the “teeny tiny” Denver bookstore for at least a year.
There would be a lot of training involved, and Meskis didn’t want to waste time on someone who wouldn’t stick around.
“My 22-year-old self took a deep breath and thought, ‘A year?’ ” Langer said. “It just took. The atmosphere of the store, the culture of the Tattered Cover, being around books — it’s one of those things I never would have expected, but it was just the right fit.”
Forty years later, Tattered Cover’s director of buying is preparing for retirement, her entire career spent among the shelves of the now-iconic Denver bookstore, save a five-year hiatus while her children were little.
She has held a variety of positions since 1977, but her longest tenure has been in book buying. As director of buying, she oversees all four Tattered Cover locations, leading a team of book buyers who wade through “thousands and thousands and thousands of titles and decide what we think will work for our market,” she said.
“I’m an eternal optimist,” Langer said. “The independent bookstores who had a really rough time a number of years ago, they are on the resurgence. It’s a strong and growing industry once again.
“The naysayers are wrong — people are reading and people are really appreciating their independent bookstores.”
Langer plans to officially retire next March, turning over the reins as director of buying to Stephanie Coleman, currently the stores’ buyer of adult front-list titles.
Langer’s announcement, though, comes at a time of transition for Tattered Cover.
The store’s incoming new co-owners, Len Vlahos and Kristen Gilligan,
are entering the final months of a two-year ownership transition with Meskis, after which the book industry icon plans to retire. The husband-and-wife duo joined the bookstore’s senior management team on July 1, 2015, and will acquire a controlling interest in the business on July 1.
Vlahos, who has known Langer for decades through the American Booksellers Association, where he worked for 20 years, said they are “confident and comfortable” that the Tattered Cover will be well-positioned moving forward.
“No matter how you look at it, with Cathy’s sensibilities and understanding of the book market and the community, she will be missed,” Vlahos said. “But Cathy has handpicked her successor. We’ve been grooming (Coleman) for some time, and they’ll have a whole additional year to continue that. She’s already a fantastic buyer.”
Langer’s impact goes beyond the walls of the Tattered Cover. She’s among “an elite group of really well-known book buyers in our universe,” Vlahos said.
She served on the board of the American Booksellers Association and is a past president of the Mountains and Plains Independent Booksellers Association and the Colorado Center for the Book.
“It’s pretty hard to imagine the bookselling community without Cathy’s strong, clear voice, her passionate engagement with the business, and above all her deep devotion to books and readers,” said Bob Miller, president and publisher of Flatiron Books, in a statement.
Over the years, Langer said, readers’ interests haven’t changed significantly.
“There has been a change in how people buy their books and a little bit in how they read them. More people are reading on devices, but we still sell a heck of a lot of physical books,” she said. “The thirst for different kinds of knowledge and entertainment is really the same.”
Langer still remembers when “The DaVinci Code” by Dan Brown first came out — they knew it was going to be blockbuster, but it exceeded almost anything they had ever seen. The stores had piles of the thriller that were gone in a day.
More recently, Langer said it’s been exciting to watch the continued success of “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr, a book they knew was something “incredible” from Day One. (Its publisher finally announced an April paperback release — nearly three years after the Pulitzer Prize winner’s initial hardcover publication.)
“I love seeing what’s going to be coming out,” Langer said. “I’m usually buying three to six months out. Right now, I’m buying for the summer. Soon, I’ll be buying for the next holiday season.
“It’s really exciting to be able to fill the stores with incredible books. We’re large, general stores — I can look at a wide breadth of books, nonfiction and fiction, and try to understand the current and future interests of our customers.”
At any given time, she’s probably reading three or four books — until one wins out and she can’t put it down.
“I’m always reading into the future,” Langer said. “One thing I’m looking forward to when I retire is reading old books, the ones I missed, that I want to go back to.”
Near the top of that list are Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. She’s also looking forward to traveling with her husband and spending more time with her three grandsons.
Meskis commended not just Langer’s skills as a bookseller and buyer but also her strong work ethic, organizational leadership and willingness to wear many hats in service to the community and industry.
“Since joining Tattered Cover straight out of Colorado College, Cathy has unfailingly demonstrated her knowledge of the readers’ potential interest and her ability to be in touch with it,” Meskis said in a statement. “Her dedication to the work of the Tattered Cover, through years of challenges and change, has been invaluable in marking a place for our stores in the years to come.”
Cathy Langer, director of buying for the Tattered Cover in Denver, will be retiring next March. “I’m an eternal optimist,” she said. “The independent bookstores ... are on the resurgence.