Her death was announced on the Tattered Cover website. No reason provided.
Almost like a short story swells into a doorstop-sized novel, Mrs. Miskes has grown the 950-square-foot store in Denver’s Cherry Creek neighborhood that she bought for less than $30,000 into a behemoth with several hundred employees and an estimated annual revenue of more than $20 million. .
At the height of its success in the 1980s and 1990s, Tattered Cover’s flagship store occupied four floors in an antique store in Denver—a literary mecca of more than 400,000 titles that has become one of the city’s most visited tourist attractions.
“It is simply one of the largest bookstores in the Western world,” Jason Epstein, managing editor of Random House, told The New York Times in 1989.
While bookstores like The Strand in New York and City Lights in San Francisco were sacred grounds for readers, Miskis created something different. With comfy chairs and lamps and squared-off sections to feel like cozy reading nooks, Ms. Myskis tried to “project a picture of well-made, well-made carpet slippers,” she told The Christian Science Monitor in 1990. “We’re after a homey vibe.”
Ms. Miskes carefully painted every detail, from the lush green carpet to the dark brown shelves that made the books—and their colorful covers—visually stand out, according to Mark A. Barnhouse, former employee and author of the “Tattered Cover Book” The Store: A Preserved History. “
“When computing became inevitable, after originally relying on thousands of index cards to keep track of inventory, it had CRT monitors and keyboards painted sepia,” Barnhouse wrote. “This might void the warranty, but it made them less visible visually, which is critical.”
Oren Teicher, a close friend and former American Booksellers Association executive, said in an interview that Ms. Miskes “really helped create this paradigm that we all take for granted now.”
“Every library now wants to be a place that encourages browsing, that encourages you to hang out, but it wasn’t always that way,” Tetcher said. “If you were a book lover, it was like getting to heaven.”
With Waldenbooks and other impersonal stores opening in malls throughout the Denver area, Tattered Cover offered personalized service from a well-read staff fiercely devoted to books and Mrs. Meskis. She trained booksellers to listen closely to customers, personally guiding them to the shelves and showing no sign of them judging reading tastes.
Although many of the bookstores were eventually decimated by Barnes & Noble, Borders and then Amazon, the atmosphere and service provided by Ms. Miskis and other independents—especially those in high-traffic areas like Politics and Prose in Washington—helped them to Survive the onslaught of competition.
“The intrinsic value of a brick-and-mortar store is that it can offer customers all the options in a way that gives them an extraordinary overall experience,” Myskis told The Denver Post in 2017. Reading a book is not just a mental experiment. It’s also tactile. And you want to be somewhere where you can enjoy all the artistic pursuits that a book offers the reader—the feel of it, the smell of it, the content.”
Customers were so loyal to the tattered binding that when Mrs. Miskis moved or expanded to other locations, hundreds volunteered to carry heavy boxes of books. She also endeared herself to readers in the year 2000 after battling a search warrant from local authorities seeking the purchase history of a drug trafficking suspect. The case went to the Colorado Supreme Court, which sided with Ms. Miskes.
“The issue was more at stake than customers’ privacy,” the Denver Post said in an editorial. The First Amendment right to freedom of the press and the right to read were also at risk.
Joyce Miskes was born in March 1942 in Lansing, Illinois, but grew up in Calumet and on the South Side of Chicago. Her father, a Lithuanian immigrant, drove a truck for Dolly Madison’s bakery, instilling in her the importance of buying from local businesses.
“I grew up in an ethnic neighborhood where you had your own little grocery store and bar on the corner,” Ms. Miskes told the Denver Post in 1995. “And you had your little bookstore and local bookstore down the block. Retail was different back then. The first change I made What we saw was the supermarket phenomenon, which forced many stores out of business.”
Mrs. Maskis was a voracious reader growing up. Barnhouse writes that she majored in mathematics at Purdue, but “after switching her major to English and working in the bookstore and college library, she realized her true passion was books.” She married another Purdue student, and they moved to the Denver area in the early 1960s. After the divorce, Mrs. Miskes worked in the local bookstore.
In 1974, she bought the distressed, torn cover. As her success grew, so did the store. Mrs. Maskis rented additional parts of the building each time a space became available.
After seven expansions, there wasn’t enough room for her ambition, so she took over a multi-storey store in town in 1986. More locations followed. Ms. Maskis has become a mentor to other booksellers and an ambassador for the industry.
In 2015, she announced she was retiring and selling the store, telling the Denver Post that her two daughters had pursued other professions so they couldn’t take over. She was also dealing with Parkinson’s disease.
Mrs. Miskes has been married at least twice. Full information on the survivors was not immediately available.
Just before her retirement, the Denver Post asked Mrs. Miskes to think carefully about her contracts running the store. She remembers the time when the mother walked into the store with her little son. He saw a book he recognized on one of the shelves and could barely contain himself.
“It’s my favorite book!” Shouted.
Asked what he would miss most, Ms. Myskis said, “Readers.”