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 have officially become the new owners of the independent bookstore., after founding Bended Page, LLC, the company that purchased the Tattered blanket from former owners Len Vlahos and Kristen Gilligan.
As the store looks to 2021 and its 50th anniversary, the new owners say they already have innovative ideas for the community’s staple food. The duo bring a diverse set of backgrounds and extensive experience to the store. Spearman has worked in many industries, particularly for retail and consumer companies, and Back started the first car rental company in India.
With plans to incorporate their ideas and those of the community into the future of Tattered Cover, the owners have sat down with Review 303 to learn more about Denver’s favorite bookstore, it’s more than a bookstore.
Review 303: What made you both become the new owners of Tattered Cover?
David Back: I returned to Denver in December to help my parents, and had just returned to Denver when COVID hit. It was very obvious that this was going to have a catastrophic impact on small businesses, so I reached out to the previous owners and asked, “Is this serious, do you need help?” They eventually came to the conclusion that they just didn’t have the resources to survive COVID. As soon as I found out he was potentially for sale, Kwame was pretty much the first person I called. This is how the project took off.
303: What changes can the community expect to see for Tattered Cover as the two of you start to implement new ideas?
Kwame Spearman: The first thing we want to do is go out there and start listening to people. In fact, we already had a virtual town hall with our staff and we have a call with our clients (December 16th). This will be one of many calls, but we actually want to deepen all parts of the community and we want to talk to the writers, we want to talk to the artists.
Although it’s a great day and week for Tattered Cover, because Tattered Cover is going to survive, we see ourselves as a small business and we feel connected to other small businesses in Denver. One of the things you will see all the time is that we are trying to find new and innovative ways to partner with other small businesses. Should we have art and should this art be produced by local artists? Should we occasionally have someone playing the piano and should it be a local person? And when you buy products other than books, those must be made by Coloradans. We must constantly remind and encourage consumers that you must continue to support your small businesses. The next few months are going to be really tough and we all have to be together to really achieve a positive result.
BD: One thing I will also highlight, next year is Tattered Cover’s 50th anniversary. We think this is the perfect opportunity to look back on 50 years of history. And then, for the future, what are the essentials that need to remain but also of course the 2070 bookstore is going to be very different from the 1970 bookstore. We want to make sure that Tattered Cover is the better of the two.
303: Tattered Cover has always played an important role in the Denver community. How is that role factored into some of the conversations Denver has had in 2020, including the social justice conversations?
KS: We are all very attached to the role of Tattered Cover in society – it’s almost an obligation that we always have to be on the right side of the story. One of the things we’re going to do as proactively as possible is put ourselves in a situation where we educate, we let people speak, and we get a diverse set of voices coming from the community. It all boils down to: Every person should feel welcome, whether they are in our stores or interacting with our brand. Our belief is that there is something magical about Metro Denver and we believe the ragged blanket can be some kind of avenue in which that magic comes to life.
303: As longtime customers and new owners of the bookstore, what do you think makes Tattered Cover such a unique experience?
KS: Well, David goes so far as to say that Tattered Cover is the largest bookstore in the Western Hemisphere.
BD: And I will say it’s one of the best retail experiences of any category in the Western Hemisphere. What really makes him so special are the people. The staff are incredibly knowledgeable, experienced, intelligent and also friendly. They love to help people find books they will love. When I worked there 20 years ago, some people had been there for a long time, and they are still there. And then on the other side, there are also the extremely loyal customers of Tattered Cover. What incredible loyalty this place inspires.
The Tattered Cover has multiple locations in Denver – with a new location coming soon to Westminster – and is currently open for in-person purchases. Hours vary by location and are posted on the Tattered Cover website.