Tattered Cover bookstores change hands again

Pair who purchased shops in 2017 faced challenges in pandemic year


Denver's famous Tattered Cover bookstores are changing ownership for the second time since the retirement of longtime owner Joyce Meskis in 2017.

The independent bookstores were purchased by a team of Colorado-based investors in a private sale announced Dec. 9, ending 49 years of private ownership.

Previously, the stores were owned by husband-and-wife duo and book industry veterans Len Vlahos and Kristen Gilligan.

The pair assumed operational control in July 2017 after a two-year apprenticeship under Meskis and transition of power beginning in July 2015.

The new owners are Denver natives and longtime friends Kwame Spearman and David Back, founding partners of Bended Page, LLC.

“We see Tattered Cover as more than a bookstore,” said Back, whose first job at age 15 was as a cashier at Tattered Cover's Cherry Creek store. “It's a place where memories are made and where everyone should feel at home.”

Back said, as owners, he and Spearman plan to increase community engagement and connection through the bookstores' operations.

“As we approach Tattered Cover's 50th anniversary we are honored and excited to invest in this important community treasure and ensure it remains a piece of the Colorado experience for generations to come,” Spearman said.

The 2015 sale of Tattered Cover came as a shock to the Denver community as Meskis had owned the bookstore since 1974 when it was just a single struggling shop in Cherry Creek.

Under Meskis, Tattered Cover became the state's largest bookstore chain, a staple of Denver's independent literary culture and an international tourist destination, growing from one location to four throughout the decades.

In 2015, Vlahos told NPR that he and his wife were “humbled” by receiving ownership and would “try to continue the legacy.”

However, by May 2020, Vlahos told Westword that the COVID-19 pandemic was “knocking us on our butt,” having cut sales to only a fraction of what they were before.

Earlier this year, Vlahos and Gilligan made the decision to close Tattered Cover's 1994 location at the corner of 16th and Wynkoop streets in favor of a move to McGregor Square near Coors Field in early 2021.

A fifth Tattered Cover location is still in the works, planning to open in Westminster.

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