Arts & Culture News

Half Price Books Wants to Be "My Iconic Bookstore," No Matter Which Store I Shop At

Some weeks in this business feel like shouting upwind. This was not one of those weeks. In the cover story of last week's Dallas Observer, I posed the question, "Other cities have big, iconic bookshops, why don't we?" Apparently, you all have a lot of opinions about that.

It wasn't just about bookstores though. It was about a citywide investment in building the arts scene, while ignoring the literary arts and the libraries; it was about what it means to be an author in Dallas where the largest bookstore sells used books; it was about the efforts of a small number to grow Dallas book culture; and it was about the joy of reading and book buying. But when people read the headline on the website, "Where is Dallas' Iconic Bookstore?" a common knee-jerk response was, "Half Price Books on Northwest Highway, you *expletive* elitist idiot."

See also: Where is Dallas' Iconic Bookstore?

Turns out, that was the same reaction Half Price Books had, because they sent us a bag of these T-shirts and bumper stickers that they plan to start selling in limited quantities in stores around the Dallas area.

The article was not a criticism of the Half Price Books business model. It is a purveyor of used books that was so successful here, there are now 120 versions of it all over the country. In fact, I pointed out the valiant efforts the company has made fulfilling their mission of promoting literacy, and its recent interest in building a community around its flagship store. But it's far from the experience you'll have at an Elliot Bay Bookstore in Seattle or my story's primary example, Powell's in Portland. Those stores are ingrained in their cities and host numerous author readings, where they sell copies of those author's books for the first time. Powell's offers about 550-plus readings each year. And I pointed out in my article that you're unlikely to see anyone roaming the streets of New York City, Seattle or Portland wearing a Dallas bookstore's T-shirt (like you would, with say The Strand). Clearly, that part resonated with Half Price Books.

Of course, nowhere in the bag of swag they sent me did I see the word Dallas. Hmmm.

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Lauren Smart
Contact: Lauren Smart