In a striking move, on July 1, Len Vlahos, executive director of the Book Industry Study Group, and his wife, Kristen Gilligan, are joining the senior management staff of the Tattered Cover in Denver, Colo., and on July 1, 2017, will acquire a controlling interest in the famed bookstore. At that point, longtime Tattered Cover owner Joyce Meskis will retire and be available as needed.
Vlahos, who is resigning from BISG effective June 12, worked for the American Booksellers Association for 20 years and was chief operating officer when he joined BISG in 2011. He has been a bookseller in independent, university and chain stores, and is the author of the YA novel The Scar Boys and its forthcoming sequel, Scar Girl. He just signed a two-book deal with Bloomsbury.
Gilligan worked for 10 years at the ABA, last serving as director of meetings and events. She was earlier a bookseller and bookstore manager and currently works on special projects for the Book Industry Charitable Foundation (Binc) and had worked for the American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression.
"Len and Kristen are exceptionally well-qualified and well-suited to guide the Tattered Cover through the opportunities and challenges of the future," Meskis said. "Their energy, passion, philosophical faith in the importance of the role bookselling plays in the community and solid commitment to the strength of its future, ensures my confidence in the longevity of the Tattered Cover in their hands."
|Len Vlahos and Kristen Gilligan
"We're both over the moon and very humbled and have some nervousness," Vlahos told Shelf Awareness. "Clearly Kristen and I believe enough in indies and their future that we're investing in the Tattered Cover, moving cross country and putting it all on the line."
He called the move a dream come true, saying that he and Gilligan had talked for a long time about becoming booksellers again. Vlahos noted that after he left ABA, he missed bookselling. "I have retail in my blood."
Vlahos and Gilligan had been talking with Meskis "for a while.... I've known Joyce for more than 20 years. I think she was president when I joined. Over the course of these conversations, as impressed as I was knowing her casually, now I'm 10 times as impressed with all she and her staff and team have done."
Next month, Vlahos and Gilligan will go to Denver for a week to house hunt as well as help pack up and unpack for the move of Tattered Cover's Highlands Ranch store. "It'll be a good chance to meet a lot of staff," he said.
Vlahos said that he and Gilligan are "very excited" that the next ABA Winter Institute will be held in early 2016 in Denver, which will make for a homecoming of sorts: for the first six years of its existence, as ABA staff, the pair were deeply involved in running the Winter Institute.
For her part, Gilligan said, "I've experienced first hand how the profession of bookselling changes lives. 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."
When Meskis purchased the Tattered Cover in 1974, it was a small, struggling 950-square-foot store. Over the years, despite boom and bust cycles in Colorado, the growth of chain superstores and the advent of e-commerce and digital books, as well as the Great Recession, Meskis built Tattered Cover into an icon of American bookselling and a much-admired example for other booksellers around the country and the world. There are now four Tattered Cover retail stores in and around the city, including locations 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 stores at Denver International Airport, and another is arriving soon.
Meskis, 73, is a former president of the ABA and has been honored by numerous organizations for her commitment to free speech and First Amendment rights, winning the American Library Association's Award for Free Expression and the Distinguished Service Award for Outstanding Achievement and Exceptional Service to the Denver Metropolitan Area from the University of Colorado. She also served for seven years as the director of the Publishing Institute at the University of Denver, retiring at the beginning of the year.
Speaking with the Denver Post, Meskis said that her two daughters have other careers, which ruled out a family transition. In addition, she has Parkinson's disease--while not an immediate impediment, it's made her want to plan ahead. "I believe in the store, and I believe in it as a service to the community," she said. "And I want to see it continue in good hands." She also said that once retired, she plans to support the new owners and read more books--and added that people shouldn't be surprised to see her hanging out at one of the stores.
ABA CEO Oren Teicher said that 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."
Tattered Cover general manager Matt Miller, who has worked at the store for more than 35 years, served on the boards of the ABA and ABFFE--thereby working directly with Vlahos and Gilligan--said, "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. 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 the 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."
The Book Industry Study Group has appointed a search committee to find a new executive director.
"Len has been a tremendous asset to BISG during what has been an exciting yet tumultuous time in the book industry," said BISG chair Tara Catogge, v-p and sales director of Quarto Publishing Group USA. "His hard work and insight over the last few years have positioned us well as we continue to provide the industry access to best practices, standards, research and education. We are all very sad to see him go but wish him well in his move to Denver."
About his tenure at BISG, which he joined in 2011, Vlahos said, "I have great fondness for BISG and its mission and have valued my time here immensely. I've learned a lot from not just the members of the Board, but from the many industry stakeholders who volunteer on BISG committees, and, of course, from my colleagues on the staff. It's a great organization and I'm happy to have played some small part in positioning it for what I believe is a very bright future."