When David Back and Kwame Spearman were growing up, Denver’s Tattered Cover was their favorite bookstore. In high school, Back worked as a Tattered Cover cashier and Spearman remembers frequenting the Fourth Story restaurant in the Cherry Creek store. Fast-forward to December 9, 2020, and the Denver natives officially became the new owners of the independent bookstore, having founded Bended Page, LLC, the company that bought the Tattered Cover from prior owners Len Vlahos and Kristen Gilligan.
As the store looks ahead to 2021 and its 50th anniversary, the new owners say they already have some innovative ideas for the community staple. The duo brings a set of diverse backgrounds and wide-ranging experience to the store. Spearman has worked in numerous industries, particularly for retail and consumer companies and Back launched the first rental car company in India.
With plans to incorporate their ideas and the community’s into the Tattered Cover’s future, the owners sat down with 303 Magazine to talk more about Denver’s favorite bookstore-that’s-more-than-a-bookstore.
303 Magazine: What led to the two of you becoming the new owners of the Tattered Cover?
David Back: I moved back to Denver in December to help my parents out, and I was just re-immersing myself in Denver when COVID hit. It was very obvious that was going to have a catastrophic impact on small business, so I reached out to the former owners and I asked, “How bad is this, do you need help?” They eventually came to the conclusion they just did not have the resources to survive COVID. As soon as I found out it was potentially for sale, Kwame was pretty much the first person I called. So that’s how the project took off.
303: What changes can the community expect to see for Tattered Cover as the two of you start implementing new ideas?
Kwame Spearman: The first thing we want to do is to go out and start listening to people. We’ve actually already had a virtual town hall with our staff and we have a call with our customers (on December 16). That will be one of many calls, but we actually want to go much deeper into all parts of the community and we want to talk to authors, we want to talk to artists.
While this is a super great day and week for Tattered Cover, because Tattered Cover is going to survive, we view ourselves as a small business and we feel bonded to Denver’s other small businesses. One of the things you’re going to continuously see is us trying to find new and innovative ways to partner with other small businesses. Should we have art and should that art be produced by local artists? Should we occasionally have someone performing on the piano and should that be a local person? And when you’re purchasing non-book goods, those should be made by Coloradans. We have to consistently remind and encourage consumers that you’ve got to keep supporting your small businesses. The next few months are going to be really difficult and we all need to be together to really get to a positive outcome.
DB: One thing I’ll also point out, next year is Tattered Cover’s 50th anniversary. We think that’s the perfect opportunity to look back at 50 years of history. And then, looking forward, what are the core essentials that have to remain but also of course, the book store of 2070 is going to be very different than the bookstore of 1970. We want to make sure Tattered Cover is the best of both.
303: Tattered Cover has always held an important role in the Denver community. How does that role factor into some of the conversations Denver has been having in 2020, including conversations around social justice?
KS: We all feel very strongly on Tattered Cover’s role in society — it almost is an obligation that we need to always be on the right side of history. One of the things we’re going to proactively do as much as we can is put ourselves in a situation in which we’re educating, we’re letting people speak and we’re getting a diverse set of voices coming from the community. It all breaks down to: Every single person has to feel welcome, either when they’re in our stores or they’re interacting with our brand. Our belief is that there’s something magical in the Denver metro area and we think the Tattered Cover can be sort of an avenue in which that magic is just brought to life.
303: As longtime customers and as the bookstore’s new owners, what do you think makes the Tattered Cover such a unique experience?
KS: Well, David goes as far as to say that Tattered Cover is the greatest bookstore in the Western Hemisphere.
DB: And I’ll say, it’s one of the best retail experiences of any category in the Western Hemisphere. What really makes it so special is the people. The staff is incredibly knowledgeable, experienced, intelligent and also friendly. They love helping people find books they’re going to love. When I worked there 20 years ago, some people had already been there a long time, and they’re still there. And then on the other side, there’s also Tattered Cover’s tremendously loyal customers. What incredibly loyalty that place inspires.
The Tattered Cover has multiple Denver locations — with a new location coming soon to Westminster — and is currently open for in-person shopping. Hours vary by location and are posted on the Tattered Cover’s website.