Arts & Culture News

The Wild Detectives: How This Little House in Oak Cliff Will Become Dallas' Newest Bookstore

Just a few porches east of 8th and Bishop in Oak Cliff sits an unassuming 1940s home. Surrounded by residential properties, the white 2/1 doesn't appear fated for grand ambitions. But if local literary activists Paco Vique and Javier Garcia del Moral get their way, that's precisely what's going to happen.

Soon, this neglected crash pad will convert into The Wild Detectives, Dallas' only independent bookstore that focuses on new, rather than used, inventory.

They've been picking at red tape since September. Because their shop will also be a café, and later a wine and beer bar, Vique and Garcia have battled the code compliance gauntlet, a perilous terrain booby-trapped with food-handling and TABC permits. They'll need plumbing and HVAC overhauls, a finagled parking agreement and eventually a private club license so they can pour that wine. But after eight months of study and negotiations, they cautiously predict the pathway has been cleared.

Now, they say, they're on track to begin demolition by early June -- save for a final round of inspections and permits wrapping in the next two weeks.

See Also: Dallas' Newest Film Series, Pata Negra, is All About Spain

All that labor to open a bookstore café? In a time of drive-through espresso bars and Amazon Prime allegiances, the energy expended seems to outweigh the operation's profit potential. Don't worry, assures Vique. That askew ratio isn't lost on them.

"It's kind of a suicide to open a bookstore these days," Vique says, surveying the space. "It's a little crazy."

But what they have going for them is unique: Both their outlook and business plan are decidedly un-Dallas. Civil engineers and longtime friends, Garcia and Vique aren't entering this project expecting a payout. In fact, they seem pleased with possibly breaking even.

Steeped in the European mindset of community-building being a side effect of wine and well-curated literature, Garcia and Vique see this store as another way to contribute to local culture. They already man the monthly Spanish film series Pata Negra at Texas Theatre, which celebrates a one-year run with the Almordovar romp Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, on Saturday, June 1.

The Wild Detectives -- a titular tease from a Bolaño novel -- is a means of extending that ideology into other avenues of creative union. They hope this little house will become a hub of idea exchange for Bishop Arts, where neighbors can gather for salon-style, literary discussions. Or just drink and talk, whatever.

"If we can just make some people find new writers and authors, and have a place [to] talk about this stuff? That's what we're looking for," says Vique. "There's a lot of life around cafés."

Getting to there from here will be challenging. This house they're leasing (then buying) has gone feral. Rusted chains that formerly supported a porch swing now dangle ominously without purpose; the deck's wood is gap-toothed, splintered and rotting out.

"We're trying to reuse most of it," says Garcia, as he flips through post-remodel CADD projections of the space. When the weathered carpet is lifted, he says, solid wood floors are exposed. The supporting beams are strong. And soon the interior walls will be pummeled, leaving the original brick fireplaces as focal points. Outside, the tiny craftsman details built into the facade sit patiently underneath the hangnailed paint, waiting to pressure washed, buffed and admired.

It looks clean. Calming. A world away from its current incarnation. If these print-outs were scratch and sniff, they'd smell like polished wood floors, books and open windows.

Paco and Javier are antsy to get the overhaul completed. On their end, everything else is handled. The store's website is ready; the book list is finalized. They expect roughly 2400 hand-selected titles, with 80 percent fiction and 20 percent poetry. Slightly less than a quarter of their inventory will be in Spanish. The employees are hired and already handling the day-to-day interactions with code officers and city workers. Once the remaining inspectors sign off, demolition begins, and if things go as scheduled, The Wild Detectives will open to the public by late September, early October, ready to prove whether Dallas' lack of independent bookstores is a fault of supply or demand.

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Jamie Laughlin
Contact: Jamie Laughlin