Does East Dallas still need, or even want, a used bookstore?
That’s the question John Tilton, owner of Lucky Dog Books, is asking himself now that he has sold his building on Garland Road. Depending on sales over the next few weeks, the store may move to a nearby location — or Tilton may close up shop in East Dallas for good.
His used bookstore, originally called Paperbacks Plus, launched in Mesquite but has had a presence in East Dallas for 40 years, mostly in and around the Lakewood Shopping Center until it bought a building at La Vista and Oram where Chip’s is now, which was home for 18 years.
Tilton and his wife, Marquetta, sold the Lakewood building in 2012 when the commercial real estate market was picking up. The sale provided enough capital for the Tiltons to move to the Lochwood store on Garland Road and simultaneously opened a third store in Oak Cliff.
The Oak Cliff store on West Davis, not far from the thriving Bishop Arts District, ran into trouble within three years, and the Tiltons moved to a smaller space on West Jefferson. The Lochwood store has struggled, too, and when a buyer approached Tilton last year, he came to terms with the fact that “we were getting farther and farther behind and couldn’t keep putting off paying some of things we needed to pay.”
He says he has a lease agreement for a new storefront “within a stone’s throw, in a building much better as far as customer access and half a dozen neighboring businesses. Right now, we’re pretty isolated other than being beside [Casa Linda] Bakery.”
But Tilton isn’t convinced that his used bookstore has a viable future in our neighborhood. After the last four years, he wonders, “You know, should we have just retired and told people, you’ve got to go to Mesquite now to get your books?”
Tilton says says he will let customers make the decision for him. He needs to come up with $5,000 to sign the new lease and start moving, he says.
“The future of the bookstore in this neighborhood depends on our sales in the next couple weeks,” he wrote in a message to customers.
He gave a similar ultimatum to Oak Cliff customers a year and a half ago, and it worked.
“We did twice as much business than we ever did before that, and we weren’t having a sale,” Tilton says. “There’s a certain sort of litmus test involved here, frankly. You always hope there is enough need for your service in a given area that it will be a supportable operation.”
The store has managed to last for four decades, but the used books and media market isn’t what it once was, he says.
“Until the late ’90s, your choices for what to do in the evening besides read a book weren’t that great,” Tilton says. These days, however, “people spend hours on the internet instead of reading a book,” not to mention on-demand television, movies and whatnot that compete for attention.
“There’s no way of getting around time and reading. Those two are intimately linked together,” he says.
And time is something people don’t seem to have a lot of these days. He is prepared to accept this harsh reality if that’s what customer purchases tell him over the next couple of weeks.
“But we don’t want to get that message,” Tilton says. “We want to get the other message.”
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