Tattered Cover is an iconic bookstore in Denver, but it has always been so much more for those who grew up in this city. All of us have a special memory or memories of Tattered Cover. It might be the hours spent every weekend for two years in the lower level of the Cherry Creek store reading about different colleges and universities all over the country. Sitting cross-legged on the floor in the same spot every week, imagining historic dining halls in Philadelphia or the Rotunda in Charlottesville, gothic chapels in Rhode Island. Or maybe it was staffing a  political shero at her book signing at the Colfax location, or perhaps it was just getting warm and eating a muffin between meetings downtown while an April blizzard dumped heavy slush all over LoDo.

The memories each of us have of our times at Tattered Cover are visceral. They evoke smells, feelings, and sounds. Like that first step through the doors and onto the soft carpet or the chill of the cold glass windows of The Fourth Story in late fall.

I will speak on behalf of all Denver-born and bred residents when I say that when we learned the new owners were local guys, a quiet but solid celebration was heard throughout Denver. Social media was alive with celebratory screaming Jonah Hill and excited Oprah Winfrey GIFs. It felt like the townies had won. And we love it when the townies win. Or really when anyone wins as long as they remember Rock Island, Paris on the Platte, or the recently departed Breakfast King. 

We are so fortunate to hear from one of our own, Kwame Spearman, Co-owner and CEO, Tattered Cover in this month’s Urban Life Wash Park. 

What makes Tattered Cover a Denver institution?

KWAME: First, its age and history. As more and more changes happen in Colorado, there aren’t as many organizations that have been around for 50+ years. Second, is its role in the creation of today’s independent bookstore. Longtime owner Joyce Meskis really helped define what the modern independent bookstore looks like. Under Joyce, Tattered Cover had such a prominent female leader when there weren’t many in the industry. If you look at everything she was able to accomplish, it’s truly extraordinary. Last, it’s the role that Tattered Cover plays in the hearts and minds of Coloradans. It’s not just our store – it’s a community store, and Coloradans truly feel that way.   

How can you use the Tattered Cover, a commercial enterprise, to benefit the community and be more than a business?

KWAME: The way that we survive as an independent bookstore and run our business is by being community-focused. Every decision we make is based on how we can benefit the community around us. This looks like partnering with other community institutions where we open our bookstores, focusing on helping schools and really embracing local talent. Last, it’s a place where everyone in the community feels comfortable and can engage in positive, informative dialogue. This is at the heart of our business model.   

What makes today’s Tattered Cover different from the Tattered Cover of decades ago?

KWAME: Honestly, there are more similarities than differences, but there’s always an evolutionary process for an institution that’s been around as long as Tattered Cover. One example is the introduction of alcohol in our stores. Our new Westminster location will be the first to have a full bar. Another example is how we engage with others digitally through social media and email. As a leader of independent bookstores, we’re trying to evolve the landscape. This includes hosting events outside of just front-list authors, bringing in local people to talk about their books and their favorite books. Community is at the center of it all. 

As Denver-raised owners- what are your earliest or most meaningful memories of Tattered Cover?

KWAME: I spent a lot of time at Tattered Cover preparing for the SAT and LSAT, both buying books and studying. The Fourth Story (the restaurant at the original Cherry Creek location) was always my first choice when someone else was paying for dinner. As for the other owners, David Back worked at Tattered Cover in high school and learned the same point-of-sale system that was still used when we took ownership of the business. Yes, we’ve updated our equipment since then.

It is a true gift to have Kwame Spearman, Alan Frosh, and David Back as the ownership team of our local sacred treasure, our Tattered Cover. Keep making memories, gentlemen, and thanks for doing the townies proud!