Tattered Cover Book Store in Denver

For the fifth installment of our ongoing series of interviews, Inside Indie Bookstores, Jeremiah Chamberlin travelled to Denver to speak with Joyce Meskis, owner of Tattered Cover.

Denver's Tattered Cover Book Store, located in the LoDo (Lower Downtown) area of the city, occupies two floors over approximately twenty thousand square feet, including a café and a dedicated special-events area that accommodates up to 250 people.

From the moment you walk in, you feel a sense of ease and peacefulness. There are overstuffed chairs and couches throughout both floors, as well as spacious tables in the café area.

The guiding aesthetic is a wonderful mix of the old (worn hardwood floors downstairs, exposed rafters and hand-hewn support beams) and the new (forest green carpet upstairs, a selection of organic and local options at the café). The place feels vital. It feels vigorous.

Owner Joyce Meskis radiates a type of calm that seems unflappable by the challenges of daily life. Yet in conversation she is the first to poke fun at herself and the many obstacles she has faced in her thirty-six years as a bookseller—not just in terms of running a business, but also advocating for First Amendment rights and helping to nurture the social and literary communities of Denver.

"I can’t speak for every bookseller in the world, obviously," Meskis says. "But wouldn’t you say it’s true that every bookseller sort of has this dream of the bookstore in the sky—what it could be, how you would want to have so much of what you loved and what your customers appreciated, and then also have the opportunity to pique their interest in different areas without betting the ranch?"

"When I’m walking through the sales floor," says Meskis, "and a little kid goes up to the shelf and spots a book and says, “Oh, wow! You’ve got that book!” To know you’ve played some small role in making that happen—there’s nothing like it. I’ve been in this business a long time and I still get chills down my back when things like this occur."


"Every signing—every one—is different," says Meskis. "To me, there are no two that are exactly the same. You can make all the predictions you want. There are some elements, of course, that are common to any signing. But when it comes to a particular reader meeting a particular writer, a particular connection is made and there’s nothing like it that has ever existed before. It cements the building blocks of the whole experience of reading and publishing and writing. It’s just wonderful."

"The Tattered Cover offers a wide variety of ideas presented in the form of author events—over five hundred each year—including the very literary, thought provoking, humorous, topical, educational, controversial, and political, to name just a few," Meskis says. "All of this said, first and foremost, the author’s work has to have an audience motivated to come to hear the author speak. We can provide the venue, the publisher can provide a few dollars to advertise the event, but in the end it’s the author who is the draw."


"Times will change," says Meskis, "and we do need to face the challenges that are before us and still maintain our care and our community service to the people who are so important to us—the writes and the readers."