The page in sto­ried own­er­ship turn­ing

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Em­i­lie Rusch

W hen Joyce Meskis took over the Tat­tered Cover Book Store in 1974, it was a strug­gling shop in Den­ver’s Cherry Creek North neigh­bor­hood.

To­day, it’s a Den­ver in­sti­tu­tion, with four re­tail stores in the metro area, three li­censed lo­ca­tions at Den­ver In­ter­na­tional Air­port and an in­flu­ence that ex­tends far be­yond its ex­tra-tall shelves.

On Satur­day, Meskis of­fi­cially hands over the in­de­pen­dent book­store she built into a bas­tion for the writ­ten word and First Amend­ment rights to the next gen­er­a­tion, mark­ing the com­ple- tion of a two-year own­er­ship tran­si­tion.

Meskis, 75, plans to re­tire and re­main avail­able as a con­sul­tant, while the hus­band-and-wife duo of Len Vla­hos and Kris­ten Gil­li­gan ac­quire a con­trol­ling in­ter­est in the busi­ness, with Vla­hos as CEO and Gil­li­gan lead­ing a grow­ing out­reach to young read­ers.

On the eve of her re­tire­ment, Meskis took a few min­utes to chat about what’s in store for her fu­ture and the fu­ture of book­stores. Edi­tor’s note: The fol­low­ing in­ter­view was edited for length and clar­ity.

Q : The own­er­ship tran­si­tion is al­most here. How do you feel about leav­ing the Tat­tered Cover in Len and Kris­ten’s hands?

A: Peo­ple have been ask­ing me, “What are you go­ing to do? What are you go­ing to do?” There are so many things that are pos­si­ble — I’ve given it thought, but I haven’t come to any solid de­ci­sions but for one. That is re­ally one of the rea­sons why I felt it was time to let go of my re­spon­si­bil­i­ties at the Tat­tered Cover as a com­pany and as, I be­lieve, an im­por­tant en­deavor for the com­mu­nity. It needs en­ergy and vi­sion and com­mit­ment. I will be tend­ing to some health is­sues and while do­ing that, tak­ing the time to re­ally as­sess where best I can ap­ply what tal­ents I may have to our com­mu­nity mov­ing for­ward. (Meskis has said she has Parkin­son’s dis­ease.)

Q : So, why them? How did you know they were the right peo­ple to pass the Tat­tered Cover onto?

A: I’ve known Len for over 20 years. He was in New York work­ing for Amer­i­can Book­sell­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, and my work with the ABA gave me an op­por­tu­nity to see Len in ac­tion. His knowl­edge of the in­dus­try is just un­par­al­leled. He’s got the pas­sion for the world of books and the ded­i­ca­tion to the cus­tomers we serve and the com­mu­nity. While I didn’t know Kris­ten as well in my work with the ABA, I knew of her and her abil­i­ties. I thought it would be a won­der­ful com­bi­na­tion to bring into the life of the Tat­tered Cover and the com­mu­nity of Den­ver.

Q : I asked Len and Kris­ten this ques­tion, so let me put it to you: What about the Tat­tered Cover is “un­touch­able?” What do you hope isn’t changed?

A: The com­mit­ment to cus­tomer ser­vice and the free­dom to read.

Q : The death knell for in­de­pen­dent book­stores rang years ago, but here we are to­day, and they’re thriv­ing. Why do you think book­stores have been so re­silient?

A: The ex­pe­ri­ence is hard to match. That’s not to say there aren’t op­tions that we will take as read­ers, e-books and so forth, but the intrinsic worth of the brickand-mor­tar store is that it can bring all of the op­tions to the cus- tomer in a way that gives them an ex­tra­or­di­nary to­tal ex­pe­ri­ence. In other words, read­ing a book is not only a cere­bral ex­pe­ri­ence. It’s also tac­tile. And you want to be in a place where you can en­joy all of the artis­tic en­deav­ors that a book of­fers to the reader — the feel of it, the smell of it, the con­tent.

Q : What do you see as the fu­ture of book­stores?

A: There have al­ways been chal­lenges

in the book in­dus­try and cer­tainly even more so the re­tail side of the book in­dus­try. That will likely con­tinue. The busi­ness plan, the fi­nan­cial tem­plate, if you will, is frag­ile on the re­tail side. It’s dif­fi­cult to achieve a prof­itable sit­u­a­tion. At the same time, the death of the book­store, the brick-and­mor­tar store, the death of the book has been pre­dicted time and again. For sure, I be­lieve that pop­u­la­tion of the com­mu­nity, the read­ers, need to have ac­cess to in­for­ma­tion of all kinds. They need to have a place where they can ex­pe­ri­ence the dif­fer­ent qual­i­ties of what read­ing a book means, they need to have the ex­change with the book­seller, to talk about books, to seek that in­for­ma­tion. Con­se­quently, I think the book­store will cer­tainly con­tinue to be avail­able for as long as I can think of the pos­si­bil­ity — which is a long time.

Q : What do you think you’ll miss most about be­ing in­volved in the store’s day-to-day op­er­a­tions?

A: The peo­ple. The read­ers. Serv­ing the chil­dren. It’s so much fun. There was a child who came into the book­shop one day with his mother, and his eye fell on a book on a shelf from some dis­tance, but it was ob­vi­ously known to him be­cause he was ex­cited to see it — “It’s my fa­vorite book! It’s my mom’s fa­vorite book! It’s my teacher’s fa­vorite book!” It’s a sim­ple thing, but the fact of the mat­ter is there is a lot of plea­sure in know­ing you played some small part in bring­ing that book to­gether with that child for a read­ing ex­pe­ri­ence that was truly ex­cep­tional and that child has shared his love of read­ing and that book with you. You know you’ve made a dif­fer­ence in his life.

Q : What are you most proud of since you pur­chased the Tat­tered Cover in 1974?

A: That’s the hard ques­tion. Work­ing with the in­cred­i­ble peo­ple of the Tat­tered Cover who have de­voted so much of their pas­sion to serv­ing the read­ers. It’s re­ally a spe­cial ex­pe­ri­ence. Tat­tered Cover has been in busi­ness since 1971, and my hope and ex­pec­ta­tion is that it con­tin­ues to live as a busi­ness, in im­por­tant ways serv­ing the com­mu­nity of read­ers.

Andy Cross, The Den­ver Post

Mark Lehn­ertz, man­ager of the Tat­tered Cover Book Store in Lit­tle­ton, helps cus­tomer El­ton Stritt­mater on Fri­day. The four Tat­tered Cover stores of­fi­cially change hands Satur­day.

Kathryn Scott, Den­ver Post file

Long­time Tat­tered Cover Book Store owner Joyce Meskis, 75, plans to re­tire and re­main avail­able as a con­sul­tant.

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