New chapter for Tattered Cover



  • Joyce Meskis selling Tattered Cover.
  • Gov. Hickenlooper was an investor in the downtown Tattered Cover building.
  • Buyers of Tattered Cover are fans of the iconic bookstore chain.

An era is drawing to a close.

Joyce Meskis, over a two-year period, will sell the Tattered Cover bookstore chain that she founded in Denver more than four decades ago.

Meskis announced Thursday afternoon that she has reached an agreement to sell her four Tattered Coverbookstores to long-time book industry veterans Len Vlahos and his wife, Kristen Gilligan.

Gov. John Hickenlooper was a partner with Meskis for many years on the LoDo property that includes one of its four stores.

Meskis has been negotiating the sale for the past nine months, but only told the governor Wednesday night.

“She told me she was even worried that I could keep the secret for one day,” Hickenlooper quipped.

The governor assured her that he has kept even bigger secrets.

But make no mistake, the announcement that Meskis will retire on July 1, 2017, is huge, he said.

“I think it is one of those moment in life when a change happens that is so significant you stop for a moment…and take stock. In this case, you give thanks for all you have meant for the community and all that she has done for it,” Hickenlooper said.

Hick: Tattered Cover more than a business to Meskis

Meskis always treated the Tattered Cover as a community resource, he said.

“As she has done from the first day that she has owned the Tattered Cover, she has thought of it in a holistic, integrated fashion,” Hickenlooper said.

He recalled that Meskis once told him “the more people who have books in their hands, the better the world is. That is no less true today that when she told me that,” about 25 years ago, he said.

Meskis said that Vlahos, whom she has known for the past 20 years, called her last June on another topic.

“I was not actively seeking a buyer or anything like that,” Meskis said.

“One thing kind of led to another; it was synchronicity,” she said. “It was a case of the right time and the right place and the right people.”

Shared passions

She said Vlahos shares her passion for books and the importance of the First Amendment. He also knows the book industry in and out.

“In addition to his wide-ranging industry experience, he is an author on top of everything else,” Meskis said. “I could not imagine a better owner of the Tattered Cover.”

Vlahos is the executive director of the non-profit Book Industry Study Group. The group promotes innovation and sharing solutions for the book publishing industry. He also was with the American Booksellers Association for 30 year. He left the ABA in 2011, when he was its chief operating officer. Vlahos also is the author of young adult novels. His best known is The Scar Boys.

Gilligan spent a decade at the ABA as director of meetings and events.

“I’ve experienced first hand how the profession of bookselling changes lives,” said Gilligan, who formerly lived in Boulder. “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.”

One might assume that Meskis has mixed emotions about turning over the reins after buying a single, small struggling store in 1974 in Cherry Creek North. She took a mere 50-square-foot store and transformed it into a nationally known name that many have heralded as the best privately owned bookstore in the U.S.

Meskis: Practical as ever

But on Thursday afternoon, she exuded nothing but joy regarding the pending sale and the future of the Tattered Cover.

“The practical side of me is thrilled,” Meskis said.

She said she was always practical about the business, even when privately owned bookstores did not face the competition from the Internet and national chains.

“Even before, when I wasn’t 73 years old, I was always mindful about the business aspects and the “What ifs?” What if I was hit by a bus, or something?”

She said her two grown daughters aren’t interested in owning the store, although they have spent many hours working at the Tattered Cover and love it.

She also has her health to consider.

Four years ago, she was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, a disorder of the nervous system. And in December, her hip was replaced.

“My Parkinson’s is under control,” Meskis said. “You can control it pretty well with medicine. But you never know. Having Parkinson’s was a consideration, but not the consideration. Whatever you do, don’t write a headline blaring that Meskis is selling the Tattered Cover because she has Parkinson’s. That would not be accurate.”

The Tattered Cover bookstore chain is considered a local treasure.

Vlahos and Gilligan, and their young son will move to Denver from Stamford, Conn.

“To become part of the fabric of Tattered Cover is literally a dream come true,” Vlahos said.

“The important role bookstores play—as conduits for the free flow of ideas and as stewards of the culture—is essential to the health and well being of our communities,” he continued.

Nothing like the Tattered Cover

The Tattered Cover is in a class by itself, according to Vlahos.

“There is no better example of what an indie bookstore can and should be than Tattered Cover,” Vlahos said.

:I’m deeply honored that Joyce has confidence in Kristen and me to join the team and lead the business into the future.”

The Tattered Cover has stores on East Colfax Avenue, in Lower Downtown and in the recently renovated Union Station.

It will soon open a store in the Aspen Grove Shopping Center in Littleton, after closing its Tattered Cover in Highlands Ranch.

There are also three licensed Tattered Cover bookstores at the Denver International airport with another coming.

Tattered Cover: Only bookstore in the Congressional Record?

In 1989, then Colorado Sen. Tim Wirth paid homage to the Tattered Cover by entering it into the Congressional Record.

“Mr. President, Colorado is a most unique and marvelous state,” Wirth said. “It is a state of majestic mountains, rolling rivers, wide plains, vibrant critics, and the Tattered Cover bookstore.”

“Yes, I include the Tattered Cover as one of Colorado’s treasures,” Wirth said.

“Step through its doors and you are immediately transported to a world of literature, of art, of learning. Just about any book you could want to read, can be found at the Tattered Cover – from the best seller to the obscure.”

The same year, Jason Epstein, then the editorial director of Random House, had this to say about the Tattered Cover in a New York Time article: “It is simply one of the greatest bookstores of the Western World.”

That also is the year that Hickenlooper met Meskis.

“She walked into Wynkoop’s (the first brewpub in Denver) soon after we opened and asked to speak to the owner,” Hickenlooper recalled.

With her two daughters in tow, she complimented him on opening a business in the historic building that that looked like a person had designed it with his customer’s in mind. She lauded him. She lauded him for respecting the local urban fabric to the local fabric. She said it did not look like it had been designed by an architect from a distant city that could have been plopped down anywhere.

“It was a super nice compliment,” Hickenlooper said.

They became fast friends and a few years later he approached her about buying the historic Mercantile Square building in LoDo for a downtown store.

“It turned out, that she already had looked at the building and every other building I mentioned. She was way ahead of me.”

Hickenlooper sold his interest in one LoDo building about the time he was first elected mayor of Denver and sold his interest in the other building in 2009. In addition to the Tattered Cover, Mercantile Square also included 98 affordable housing units and office space.

Hickenlooper said that Meskis’s decision to sell over a two-year period speaks volumes about her character.

“The fact that she is creating a two-year transition period is extremely important,” Hickenlooper said. The new buyers will join the Tattered Cover’s executive team on July 1 and will buy a controlling interest in the Tattered Cover two years later. Financial terms were not disclosed.

It will be a smooth transition, the governor predicted.

“It means that they will be able to benefit from her skills and experience. And that is just a gift.”

Have a story idea or real estate tip? Contact John Rebchook at is sponsored by 8z Real Estate. To read more articles by John Rebchook, subscribe to the Colorado Real Estate Journal.

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John Rebchook

John Rebchook has more than 30 years of experience in writing and communications. As the Real Estate Editor for the Rocky Mountain News, he wrote about residential and commercial real estate for 26 years. He has won numerous awards for business stories and columns that he wrote, both as an individual and part of teams. In addition to real estate, he also covered economic development, banking and financing, the airlines, and cable TV for the Rocky. In addition, he was one of the original freelance writers for, covering commercial real estate for the Internet publication.

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