A new chapter for the Tattered Cover bookstore

Tattered Cover on East Colfax Avenue in Denver, CO. (Photo by Mike Littwin)
The Tattered Cover Book Store will be shifting ownership from Joyce Meskis to Len Vlahos and Kristen Gilligan in 2017.


Last March, Joyce Meskis announced she would close the book on her 41-year ownership of the Tattered Cover Book Store, naming Len Vlahos and Kristen Gilligan as her successors. In a year and a half, Meskis will transfer ownership to the book-loving duo, but first she needs to make sure they’re trained.

Since being named Meskis’ successors, Vlahos and Gilligan have been visiting the store’s locations and learning about everything from sales to shipping. Their four months of formal training are almost over. Now they have a chance to put what they’ve learned to the test during the winter holidays, the store’s busiest season. They will continue to work at Tattered Cover until July of 2017, when they will officially take charge.

After becoming the official owners, Vlahos and Gilligan plan to spend as much time in the bookstores as possible. Meskis will remain their “close advisor.”

Vlahos met Meskis when he worked at the American Booksellers Association and she was the group’s president.

Vlahos is the author of the Young Adult novel The Scar Boys and served as executive director of the Book Industry Study Group, until stepping down this June to start his transition to Tattered Cover ownership.

Gilligan grew up in Boulder, spent 10 years at the American Booksellers Association, and worked for the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression. Most recently, she managed the Second Story Book Shop in Chappaqua, New York.

“When you think about indie bookselling, there are two or three names that immediately come to mind: Powell’s Books in Portland, Politics and Prose in Washington DC… certainly at the top of that list, to me, is Tattered Cover,” Vlahos told The Independent.

In 1974, when Meskis purchased Tattered Cover, it was a small, struggling bookstore in Cherry Creek North. Under her ownership, it expanded with great success. Now, Tattered Cover has four storefronts in the greater Denver area, as well as three locations licensed at the Denver International Airport. Despite the increasing popularity of ebooks and online booksellers, Tattered Cover has continued to enjoy success as a local institution.

Meskis has also garnered the respect of her community. In 2002, she made news as a First Amendment defender, when Tattered Cover won a Colorado Supreme Court case that protected the privacy of customers’ book-purchasing records. The Court ruled that purchasing records are protected under the United States and Colorado constitutions — a verdict that continues to set the precedent for bookstores today. Meskis’ passion for free speech earned her an American Library Award for Free Expression.

In 2013, Occupy Denver protested the store’s decision not to oppose Denver’s controversial urban camping ban. Meskis cited the bookstore’s policy of political neutrality as the store’s reason for neither supporting nor opposing the ban. But protesters argued that the store’s membership in the Downtown Denver Partnership — a group whose membership dues were used to lobby in favor of the ban — implicated the story in what they say was anti-homeless organizing.

Meskis, who was unavailable to comment on this story, has maintained that the store makes every effort to avoid political bias. Tattered Cover is noted for the breadth of books that it carries — books that reflect a wide variety of modes of thinking, political opinions, and philosophies.

“We share Joyce’s stalwart commitment to protecting the reading rights and privacy rights of our customers,” Vlahos said. “At the end of the day, our commitment is to the reader and the community.”

Gilligan and Vlahos won’t be making any major changes — at least, in the near future.

But “I think our presence will be felt in small ways,” said Vlahos, who mentioned that he would like to see the bookstore build a stronger relationship with local schools.

Despite being “a fresh set of eyes,” Gilligan and Vlahos are proceeding with deference for the empire that Meskis built. Vlahos assured The Indy that they intended to continue to honor “what Joyce has built here” and respect “the storms she has weathered.”

Vlahos and Gilligan say they will maintain Meskis’ apolitical stance and keep her legacy alive.

“The number one rule is don’t screw it up,” Vlahos joked.

Photo: Addie Glickstein