When you walk into Books & More in north Denton, everything about the tiny-looking used-media shop comes as a surprise.
"When I first went there, they had a bunch of comic books, I was a kid, and the lady there let me work there," says Charles Wright, 22, a customer of Books & More for the last nine years. "She paid me in credit, and that was cool for being a kid. I love it now for the records. They have a lot of vintage records for good deals. I recently bought Princess Diana, Prince Charles and JFK speeches on vinyl. Pretty much anything that is well-known, you can find it there."
From the outside, the store has the appearance of a one-room dive shop with limited inventory. But once you take a few moments to navigate the area, you find that it unfolds and expands, and throughout its six different rooms of inventory there are more than 20,000 records and the same number of books.
It unravels like an ancient curios shop, and the record selection alone is enough to impress even the most jaded of vinyl enthusiasts.
People can purchase new and used movies, music and books from a number of different locations and districts throughout Denton. Really, though, when it comes to older records and used books, there are three prime shops. Recycled Books and Records is on the northeast corner of the Denton Square, and it is without question the tourism darling of the three. Its multiple floors house tens of thousands of books, with about 40 percent of one giant room devoted to used records. It's been a staple of Denton since 1983, and as a quick tour of the store turns into hours lost inside of its many, many rooms, it's easy to see why.
Mad World Records is another impressive stop for record enthusiasts, especially punk connoisseurs. Located on the south side of the Square, it has only one main room for merchandise, mainly consisting of CDs and records. Then there's Books & More, located about two miles north and west of the Square on University Drive.
Because of the relatively remote location and the slow economy for physical media, it is in danger of going out of business. Should that happen, Denton will lose one of its best record and book stores, and most people in the community will not have even known that it was there.
Debra Newton has owned and operated Books & More at its current location since 2002. It is sandwiched between a Dollar General and an Alcoholics Anonymous headquarters, all of which reside in a mini-mall northwest of central Denton, across the street from a Whataburger at the intersection of Malone Street and University Drive. Dense traffic skirts the intersection of Malone and University during rush hour. Usually around 3 p.m. on school days, elementary school students, some accompanied by parents and some alone, walk past it to the homes in the neighborhood that borders it. Other small Denton book and record stores exist and have existed for decades. There are chains down south, in the Golden Triangle Mall and further into the Loop 288 district. Denton is a big little town, but one of the things that makes it special is its healthy congress of locally owned specialty media shops.
In 2011, Chris Mosley from D Magazine put out a definitive article about the great independent record stores of Denton's past. Among a couple of others, Mosley names The X, Seasick Records and Johnny Law.
All of those stores had the benefit of being located on or very near the University of North Texas at a time when "UNT adjacent" was important to small, independently owned businesses. And even they didn't last for very long.
Farther away from the golden perimeter, Strawberry Fields only lasted for two years at its location on Bonnie Brae, and the longest-lasting shop named in the D Magazine article was the X, holding out for around four years before finally shuttering its doors. Through her own experience, Newton has some ideas about why it's so difficult to keep independent stores such as hers open for the long haul.
"There's very little platform for print advertising in Denton," she says. "The local newspaper is usually not read by younger people, and I've also heard from other business people that Denton is just a very tough town to get a business going in. "And I'm not sure exactly why that is, but I think a combination of all that, and also if you're not right there on campus it's hard to get the college crowd."
Newton says that since 2010, her best year of business since she's opened 11 years ago, her sales have been steadily dropping, down roughly 11 percent of total sales volume since then. Three months ago, she was sure that she would have to close permanently, but a recent holiday spike has perked up her enthusiasm slightly. She also says that social media has helped.
"It seems like Facebook is the key that is unlocking what I've been looking for, because it's already exploding," she says, adding that when she started promoting her Facebook page a little more than a month ago, she went from 14 likes to more than 200 currently.
Whether or not increased awareness due to social media is putting people in the store, Newton remains optimistic about their powers.
"I'm having people finding us and making comments and seeing things," she added. "So I'm hoping that's going to be the way to make the community more aware of our presence."
Mark Burke is the owner of Mad World Records, which has been on the Square in Denton for two and a half years.
"We've been on the Square since 2011, and sales have been getting better and better each month," Burke said. "But of all the reasons Books & More may be hurting, I'd say number one is probably location, and I'd probably be hurting if I was there as well. Even when I try to tell people how to get there [when a customer is trying to find something Mad World doesn't have], I do what I can, but it's in a weird spot."
Regardless of the store's location, many well-known musicians in and around Denton still love Books & More, including singer/songwriter Daniel Markham and Brave Combo horn player Jeff Barnes.
"It seems like they always have everything, exactly what you'd want," Markham says. "I mostly just go there for vinyl, but they really do have a great selection."
For Barnes, it's the personal treatment that draws him back to the shop. "They ... save me hi-fi sound-effects records," he says. "I really like those."
Markham added that while it would be a great loss to Denton if the book and record shop closed for good, one reason it's in danger financially might be because of its relative obscurity.
"I would hate it if it closed down, but I don't know that too many people know about it," he says. "It seems like people that know about it are few and far between, especially with the vinyl selection."
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Whatever the official reasons for Books & More's decrease in sales revenue, Newton feels lucky that she is still standing amid the droves of similar shops, many owned by people she knows, having to close their doors permanently in recent years.
"They are closing all around me," she says. "And I think that if I hadn't expanded into other media [adding records], then I would be closed also."