Recycled Books in Denton is not your average used bookstore. Of course, they have row after row of books, an awesome collection of vinyl records, and a huge array of compact discs, but what makes this bookstore unique is the outstanding quality of the overall selection.
The more than 200,000 books packed into a two-story, turn-of-the-century opera house and mercantile building at the northeast corner of the courthouse square covers nearly every conceivable topic from Western novels to textbooks with a depth that will please the pickiest of bookworms. Most of the titles sell at remarkably low prices, and all are at fair prices for books or music that you might have to travel to several used bookstores to find. It is not unusual to find recent releases next to titles published 50 years ago and long out of print.
"Getting a lot of books is easy," says owner Don Foster. "Getting fine books is tough." Books come to the store from a variety of sources. Of course, in a college town like Denton, students selling off their academic collections accounts for a substantial amount.
It helps to have professors and college students selling their used books, but Foster says it's not necessarily the reason for the outstanding rainbow of titles his store offers. "We get people driving in from all over to sell their collections," he says. "I'm often surprised what comes through the door."
Foster also relies on a network of book scouts who scour the thrift stores, garage sales, and estate sales looking for books to buy at low prices and sell at high prices. "It's kind of a lost art," Foster says of the folks that make a living buying and selling used books to dealers. A book scout has to know what the value of a book is and what dealers are willing to buy.
"There is a guy from New Mexico who comes in every couple of weeks," Foster says: "It's amazing what he keeps turning up." No doubt the New Mexican scout has contributed several volumes to the store's extensive selection of first editions and books signed by the author.
"We're really picky, plus we pay a fair price," he says to explain the breadth of the store's collection. One of his regular customers is Larry McMurtry, the noted Texas author who also owns an outstanding bookstore up the road in Archer City. One time McMurtry, who once was a professional book scout, showed up at the store with the mission of stocking a rich man's 15,000-book library. "We loaded several boxes in the trunk of his car before he left," Foster says.
The well-lit and comfortable store with three levels covers more than 17,000 square feet of floor space. It began as a simple, one-person operation when Lucy Wright opened the doors in 1983. "It was almost like someone's front room," Foster says of the first storefront.
Whether it was because of its location in a college town or proximity to the Dallas/Fort Worth area, the used-book business blossomed. Ms. Wright soon moved into a new, bigger storefront. As her business neighbors closed down or moved, she would take over the additional retail space, at one point the store filled three different buildings. "From the beginning, it was always the goal to have the best quality of used books we could," Foster says of the store's secret of success.
Even with its reputation as a laid-back college town, the bookstore set off a minor controversy when it moved into the old dry goods store on the city square and painted the trim a lavender shade of purple. Some folks didn't feel that it fit into the historic color scheme of the buildings on the square; many of which were vacant and boarded up at the time.
The addition of several restaurants in downtown has created more of a nightlife in the area. The evening activity prompted the bookstore to expand its hours, which has had another positive effect on local businesses.
When they moved into the building the entire stock fit on the first-floor space. "As soon as we moved in, we bought 10,000 books from a store going out of business in Dallas," Foster says. Within a year, they had filled nearly every inch of space, including a large basement with couches and chairs mixed among the shelves for the customers' comfort.
It's easy to lose track of time browsing the stacks of books. The store has the feel of the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco without the overwhelming enormity of Powell's Books in Portland. "Customers often tell us that we're a better store than [used bookstores] they've visited in New York and Paris," Foster says with a hint of bashfulness. "That's really a great compliment." Throughout our interview, Foster kept repeating, like a mantra learned long ago, "Our goal is to be the best we can be."
Whether you're looking for a hard-to-find jazz album for an addition to your CD collection or building your own library, Recycled Books can help. At 200 N. Locust, the friendly experts can help you locate special items seven days a week from 9am to 9pm. For more information, contact the store at 940/566-5688 or www.recycledbooks.com.
Coming up this weekend ...
Fall Antique Show and Sale in Warrenton is the place to come early and stay late to wander through the acres of dealers, Sept. 29-Oct. 8. 979/249-4042 or www.roundtop.org.
Days of the Scots at the John Knox Ranch outside of Fischer gathers the clans for a weekend of games and history, Sept. 29-30. 979/732-3679.
Kolache Fest in Hallettsville honors those little Czech pastry pillows with polka music, games, and lots of German-Czech food and fun, Sept. 30. 361/798-2662 or www.hallettsville.com.
Coming up ...
State Fair of Texas in Dallas is one of the largest expositions in the world with acres of fun and food. Several new exhibits have been added this year including the Women's Museum and a Western Heritage Hall, Sept. 29-Oct. 22.
214/421-8716 or www.texfair.com.
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