This was now in the 80s?
This would be the early-to-mid 80s,
because we were supposed to move in '82 but there was construction delay. So we
moved in January '83 into the new space. And then we learned that Crown was
doing this roll-out across the country and that one of the cities was also
going to be Denver.
Cue ominous music.
Right! [Laughter.] So I took my calculator home and tried to figure
out what they knew about bookselling that I didn't know. And I couldn't see how
we could maintain our position. So I thought, "Well, we can't discount. But we
can give the bargain-conscious customer something else. We can go heavily into
bargain books—remainders." But we needed more space to do that. So we decided
to keep the old store space and put it primarily into bargain books. That's
also about the same time that we decided to go more heavily into periodicals and
sidelines. Anyway, it turned out that business thrived.
Tattered Cover is often cited as one of the first independent stores
to develop an author reading series. Were readings a part of Tattered Cover
from the beginning?
It happened early, but it happened in
an unusual sort of way. As I said before, I had worked in bookstores when I was
in school. And when I bought Tattered Cover we were not really seeking author
events because I had seen too often a lovely gathering where nobody came, and I
didn't want to put the author in that kind of position. Well, one day I got a
call from our sales rep for Little, Brown and she said, "Joyce, I've got an
offer to make to you. Ansel [Adams] is going to be on his way to see Georgia
[O'Keeffe] in New Mexico and he's going to stop in Denver. Would you like to
have him for a signing?" I held my breath and said, "Absolutely. We would be
delighted to have a signing." Though I was completely terrified. I had heard
that he was very particular about the plates on the books and that he would go
to the printers about it, and so I thought he must be a difficult and demanding
personality. But when he came he couldn't have been sweeter. Just wonderful.
And, of course, the line was out the door. I was sold at that point. The magic
of that moment—of seeing the author and his people—was just fabulous.
I remember when
Tom Wolfe came for The Right Stuff. We had a wonderful group of folks waiting for him, and events just
became a part of our community experience. Every signing—every one—is
different. 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.
Are there any other authors or
events that you found particularly special?
Once we had acquired the second
floor in the original building, we did all the signings up there. And at one
point we had the opportunity to host Buckminster Fuller—a forward-looking
architect and writer of note. As it turned out, he was on his last tour. He was
quite elderly at the time. And when he walked in the door and I saw how frail
he was, I thought, "He's never going to make those stairs." So I said, "We'll bring the signing table
downstairs." But he said, "No, no, no, no, no." He was going to go up those
stairs and sit at that table and greet his admirers. And he did so. It was a
daytime event, and his admirers almost genuflected when they came up to the
signing table. It was that type of experience. And as the line was coming to a
close, his adult grandson, who was traveling with him, said to me, "Do you have
a large pan that you could put some warm water in for granddad to soak his
hand?" It turns out that he'd broken a finger or two but he insisted on coming
to sign. That was really remarkable.
Do you also do nonliterary events here that are community oriented?
When we're not doing signings here [in
the events space] or when there is a gap for some reason, we will rent this
space out to the community; we also have a minimal rental rate for nonprofits.
And sometimes we'll just let some organizations use it, such as the Lighthouse
Writers Group. They meet here once in a while. So, yes, it's a community
Another thing I'd like to talk with
you about—because it has to do both with the local community here in Denver
and the broader literary community—is the First Amendment case that you were
involved in. Can you talk a bit about how this came about?
In 2000 we were approached by a DEA
agent who served us with a subpoena to turn over some records. But the
subpoena—upon sending it to our attorney—turned out not to be an official
subpoena. After my attorney looked at it, he indicated to me that this type of
subpoena was not actionable. So he called the agent, informing him that in
order to obtain access to the records a proper subpoena would need to be
But the agent
indicated that he didn't want to take that course of action. So we thought that
was the end of that. But three weeks later, my attorney, Dan Recht, called and
said, "Joyce, I got a call from an individual in the Adams County DA's office,
saying that a search warrant is in the works on Tattered Cover, in the hopes of
getting the sales records for a particular customer." And I said, "A search
warrant? That is immediately
actionable." I knew that much about the law. But he said, "Don't get excited
yet; I asked for some extra time. We have until the end of the business day
tomorrow to come up with a response. So I want you to think about this
overnight, and I'll call you tomorrow afternoon.
The decision was whether to allow
The decision was about how we were
going to respond. Because there's no decision to be made about "allowing" a
search warrant—once issued, the authorities can act on it. So the next day I
was in the office and I got a visit from one of our floor managers. She said,
"Joyce, there are police officers here with a search warrant and they want to
see you." I said, "That's impossible." And she said, "No, it isn't; they're
So you began shredding all your records, right?
No. [Laughter.] I said, "Okay, send them upstairs and we'll
deal with this." There were four or five individuals, all dressed in civvies.
They weren't jack-booted police officers or anything like that. In fact, they
were dressed like booksellers—one had a ponytail; they wore tennis shoes. They
were all completely gentlemanly. But they had a search warrant. So I said, "May
I call my attorney?" They said, "Yes." And when I called Dan he absolutely hit
the ceiling: "They can't do that! They gave us until the end of the business
day today! Fax me a copy of the search warrant."
So while the
warrant was faxing over, I was sitting with the officers and talking about the
First Amendment and the Kramerbooks case [in which independent counsel Kenneth
Starr tried unsuccessfully to obtain Monica Lewinsky's purchase records from an
independent bookstore in Washington, D.C.]. They had a mission and the mission
was going to be accomplished. They said, "This isn't about you." I said, "I know it's not about me." They said, "You're perfectly
legal." I said, "I know we're
perfectly legal." They said, "You can sell anything that's constitutionally
protected." I said, "I know we
can sell anything that's constitutionally protected—that's what we sell." This
went on: "But we need this information." "Well, I see that as a First Amendment
issue." "It's not a First Amendment issue." "Yes, it's a First Amendment
Meanwhile, Dan got
the copy of the search warrant and he asked to talk with the lead officer. So I
put him on the phone and they went at it. While Dan was talking to him, I kept
talking to the other officers. Finally, at the very end, I said, "What are the
books that you're after, anyway? How do you even know we stock them?" And one
officer looked me right in the eye and he said, "You'll special-order anything,
won't you?" [Laughter.] Got
meeting they kept saying, "We just want this one record, we just want this one
record from this one customer." And I asked, "What if you don't find what
you're looking for?" And he said, "We'll take the next step then." Which I
translated as: The search warrant goes into effect and they look at more
records and more records.
Somehow, some way,
Dan was able to persuade them to hold off for ten days. So they left the store,
Dan and I conversed, and within a heartbeat Dan filed for a temporary
restraining order in the court, and we got it. This enabled us to file suit
against them—to get a judicial opinion on whether the search warrant could
move forward or not.
Whether it truly was an infringement of First Amendment rights?
Right. That's what was up for debate.
Was it the individual's right to privacy being defended, or was it
It was the individual's right. I asked
the officer, "Why don't you just go to the individual and get us out of the
loop?" But the officer replied, "He's not going to tell us anything." You see,
we didn't know anything about the case. We assumed it had something to do with
drugs because the DEA had been involved earlier, but that was all we knew.
So they suspected that this
individual had purchased a particular title, but they needed to verify that
fact with you.
That's right. They wanted confirmation.
When we learned more, as our case moved through the judicial process, we found
out that it had to do with a meth lab. There'd been suspicion of a meth lab in
a trailer home in a trailer park in Adams County, and so the officers had been
able to get a search warrant for the premises on probable cause that illegal
activity was happening there. As they suspected, they found a small meth lab in
the bedroom of the trailer home. They also found in the trash what they called
a "mailing envelope" from Tattered Cover. The mailing envelope had a mailing
label on it, and there was an invoice number on the label. There was also the
name of the person to whom the contents of the envelope were addressed, who
lived at the trailer home. But there was no indication what had been in the envelope.
Because there was no invoice?
Correct. Inside the trailer home, near
the meth lab, were two books on how to make meth. And so the officers said,
"Aha!" They wanted to put the two pieces of evidence together to tie it to that
specific person. They wanted to know who occupied that bedroom, because there
were four or five people who lived in that trailer.
So Tattered Cover was within its legal rights to sell that book; the
officers simply wanted to identify which individual had bought it so that that
purchase could be used as circumstantial evidence to prove who had been making the meth.
Right. So they went to get a search
warrant for us after we were unwilling to turn the information over with the
unofficial subpoena. But because Tattered Cover is a legitimate business, the
DA's office in Adams County may have felt there wasn't any danger of us
destroying evidence—which is normally one of the reasons why a search would be
necessary. Instead, they wanted the officers to do more due diligence
first—dust the books for fingerprints, interview people in the trailer park to
see who lived in that trailer, and so on.
So they went and
did the fingerprinting, which yielded no results. In fact, one of the books
still had its brown wrapper around it. Hadn't been opened, hadn't been cracked.
And the other one looked like it hadn't been cracked—the spine was clean.
But the officers
wanted to take the shortcut. And since they were on hold with the Adams County
DA's office, they went to Denver for the search warrant. They could do that
because we're located in the city and county of Denver. So now we're in the
Denver district court and we find out that this is going to go on for a while.
Dan's is a small office. He doesn't have a big corporate office to absorb
costs, and he was charging us little. Meanwhile, we were getting five-dollar
donations from customers to help pay legal fees. And Chris Finan from the
American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression stepped in. And our pal
Neal Sofman in San Francisco held a fund-raiser at A Clean Well-Lighted Place
for Books with Daniel Handler, who writes as Lemony Snicket, along with some
other authors to raise money for us.
So this was becoming a national issue.
It became a national phenomenon. We
were getting calls from national press. I never saw anything like it.
Meanwhile, all we're trying to do is sell books. [Laughter.]
Yet 90 percent of your time was spent on this issue.
And our customers—every time we'd
been involved in cases like this before there was press, and each time I
thought, "This time the customers are not going to understand and we're going to
go out of business." I thought for sure that would be the case with this one. I
mean, a meth lab? We don't like meth labs. But that was not the point of the
So that judge in
the district court gave half a loaf to each side. In his decision, he ruled
that authorities could not have the thirty days' worth of material/background
on this customer that they were seeking. But the Tattered Cover would have to
turn over the record of what was mailed to that customer on that one invoice.
So then we had a decision as to whether to appeal our case to the Colorado
Supreme Court or not. And we did.
To skip to the end
of that story, we got a 6-0 decision in our favor. One judge abstained; I
have no reason why.
How long did the entire process last?
Two years. It was decided in 2002. And
once it was over, the authorities finally went out and got the guy. They put
him in prison for a number of years.