Monday, November 17, 2008

Two Indies for Big D

by Edward Nawotka -- Publishers Weekly, 11/17/2008

Dallas may pride itself on being the brashest city in the country, but for nearly three years it has lacked a large-scale independent bookstore. Earlier this month that changed, with the opening of the 24,000-sq.-ft. Legacy Books.

The store is situated in the north Dallas suburb of Plano, in a purpose-built space that boasts an 1,800-sq.-ft. kids section, a third-floor art book gallery, a kitchen for cooking demos, a cafe that offers beer and wine, a wi-fi bar with computer stations (so people with laptops don't clog the cafe)—and 110,000 books. Managing partner Teri Tanner is a former national and regional sales director with Borders and Barnes & Noble, who said she's been “dreaming of this store for 25 years.”

Though the economy is foundering, Tanner believes this to be as good a time as any to open a bookstore. “There's never a right time for anything,” she said. “One thing that makes me really hopeful is when I look at this from the perspective of it being a local store. People are becoming increasingly aware of buying local—whether because it keeps tax revenue in the community or there's a lower environmental impact. I think we can make a difference to this community.”

Tanner has recruited experienced bookselling staff from the area, including romance buyer Kathy Baker, formerly of Waldenbooks in Hurst, Tex., and the 1999 RWA Bookseller of the Year, and Jeremy Ellis, one-time event and marketing manager at Austin's BookPeople, who now serves in the same capacity at Legacy. Former Borders publicity director Ann Binkley has consulted on publicity. In all, the store has 33 employees.

Legacy's event schedule started off auspiciously, featuring designer Isaac Mizrahi presenting his new book, How to Have Style, in his only Texas appearance. Forthcoming events feature a mix of national and local favorites, including Adam Jones, author of Rose Bowl Dreams: A Memoir of Faith, Family, and Football, and Willie Nelson biographer Joe Nick Patoski.

Tanner said that the book selection and product mix will change in response to customer reaction. “We've already broken out our very substantial religion section into different faiths,” she noted.

So far, the early response has been positive, with local media taking a keen interest. One thing that Legacy can count on: the locals have money to spend. “According to USA Today, Plano is one of the wealthiest communities in America,” said Tanner. “So at least we know we got the demographics right.”

Some 25 miles south, in the Bishop Arts District in Dallas's Oak Cliff neighborhood, Jorge Alvarez and Gilbert Barrola have launched a more modest enterprise: Dicho's, a 1,300-sq.-ft. bookstore. This is the second branch of Dicho's. The original was founded in Pomona, Calif., in 2000 and relocated to Gainesville, Tex. (pop. 28,000), in 2006 when the duo moved. Now Alvarez and Barrola commute the 70 miles back and forth between the stores in Dallas and Gainesville—where the outpost of Dicho's is somewhat larger, at 3,000 square feet.

“We realized that running two bookstores is just something we couldn't do all by ourselves,” said Alvarez. “So we've hired three employees.” Alvarez, who at one time managed a Barnes & Noble bookstore at California State University of Los Angeles, described Dicho's (which without the apostrophe means “aphorisms” in Spanish) as a “nontraditional bookstore.”

“We also sell furniture, lamps and home d├ęcor, and we display the books as a series of vignettes,” he said. “For example, right now we're featuring Too Many Toys by David Shannon—we have it grouped with a bunch of vintage toys and a fire engine children can play on.” Children's books represent a large portion of the book stock; there's also a small branch of Dallas's Cretia's bakery in the back.

The Oak Cliff neighborhood is not typical of Dallas and, according to Alvarez, is home to a large constituency of gays, lesbians, Latinos and Democrats—“all groups we hope to cater to,” he said, noting that at some point he hopes to add Spanish-language titles to the store's mix.

They aren't the only ones to have realized the neighborhood had potential: Oak Cliff is the former location of Black Images Book Bazaar, which closed in December 2006.

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