Today, March 26, Tattered Cover Book Store owner Joyce Meskis announced a two-year timeframe to pass control of the business to book industry veterans Len Vlahos and Kristen Gilligan, his wife. The agreement calls for Vlahos, currently the executive director of the Book Industry Study Group, and Gilligan to join Tattered Cover’s senior management team on July 1, 2015, and to acquire a controlling interest in the business on July 1, 2017. Meskis, who is 73, then plans to retire but will be available on an as needed basis. More specific terms of the deal were not made public.
Meskis, a former president of the American Booksellers Association and a much-honored defender of First Amendment rights, grew the store, which she purchased in 1974, from a small, struggling 950-square-foot shop in the Cherry Creek North neighborhood of Denver into an internationally recognized business. There are now four Tattered Cover retail stores in and around the city, including on Colfax Avenue, in Lower Downtown, and in the newly refurbished Denver Union Station. The Tattered Cover store formerly located in Highlands Ranch will soon reopen in the Aspen Grove Shopping Center in Littleton. There are also three licensed store locations at Denver International airport with one more to follow.
“Kristen and Len will bring the continuity of philosophy along with an energetic creative spirit to grow the business in ways that benefit the community, the readers served by the Tattered Cover, and the staff that provides that service,” said Meskis. “All of that coupled with their high level of experience, intelligence, strong work ethic, and passion for books, the independent bookshop, and the important work of our industry as a whole to the culture of our country and its many communities is a terrific combination.”
Vlahos, whose last day at BISG will be June 12, called the opportunity at Tattered Cover a dream come true. “Kristen and I have talked about playing this kind of role in an independent bookstore for as long as we’ve known each other. (We’re both former booksellers.) That the bookstore is turning out to be Tattered Cover is kind of mind-blowing,” he said.
ABA CEO Oren Teicher said, “Joyce Meskis helped create the modern independent bookstore. She served our organization with great distinction as a Board member and president, and her leadership on First Amendment and free expression issues is legendary. That Tattered Cover will continue under the expert leadership of Kristen Gilligan and Len Vlahos reinforces the good news surrounding indie bookstores of late. I can say with complete confidence that all of us associated with indie bookstores are smiling broadly with this announcement.”
Prior to becoming BISG executive director, Vlahos spent 20 years at the American Booksellers Association and was chief operating officer when he left ABA in 2011. He has been a bookseller in independent, university, and chain bookstores and is the author of The Scar Boys (Egmont USA) and the forthcoming sequel, Scar Girl.
“While we’re going in with a healthy amount of trepidation, both Kristen and I feel that our life experience has prepared us for this moment as well as it possibly could,” said Vlahos. “In my case, having seen the business from so many different perspectives is valuable. I feel that I have a handle on what motivates not only customers, but trading partners and authors as well.”
Gilligan’s background includes a decade-long career at ABA, where she last served as director of meetings and events. Before ABA, Gilligan was a bookseller and managed an independent bookstore in Chappaqua, New York. She currently works on special projects for the Book Industry Charitable Foundation and, prior to that, worked for the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression.
“I’ve experienced firsthand how the profession of bookselling changes lives,” Gilligan said. “There’s a magic and a magnetism in seeing the right book find its way to the right customer. I am thrilled beyond belief that I will have the opportunity to help Tattered Cover continue and grow its great tradition of bookselling in Denver.”
Tattered Cover General Manager Matt Miller, who has worked with Meskis for more than 36 years, got to work directly with Vlahos and Gillian during his tenure on the boards of ABA and ABFFE.
“It has been both a pleasure and a privilege to work with Joyce these many years, building a business that is so rewarding and so important to the community,” Miller said. “Having known and worked with Len and Kristen over the years, I can think of no better scenario for the future of the store than for them to take reins as Joyce transitions toward retirement. I am confident that they will bring continuity and vitality to the Tattered Cover through their commitment, talent, and vision for decades to come. I am looking forward to working with them toward that goal.”
Meskis said that setting in motion her plans to retire was not a difficult decision from a practical standpoint, but it was an emotional one. “However, even that was tempered by this extraordinary opportunity for the store,” she said. About the future for physical bookstores, Meskis said, absolutely, “I believe in a future that will support and value bricks-and-mortar bookstores.”
After a drive across country, Vlahos and Gilligan plan to arrive in Denver on or about June 25.
When they join Tattered Cover’s management team, Vlahos said, “Our primary goals are to learn as much about the business and the culture as we can, and to contribute in the best ways that we can. We’re very excited to be working with such an incredible team. I’ve known several of the staff for many years — through my time at ABA — and my respect for them is unparalleled.”
Asked about how it feels to be succeeding an industry icon and taking over one of the most well-known bookstores in the country, Vlahos said, “In a word, humbling. In two words, very humbling.”