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Two Bookstores: One Big, One Small. One North, One South
by Jerome Weeks 31 Oct 2008

The KERA radio story: The expanded online story: Books and bookstores are supposed to be dying. But despite the internet and the dire economy, new bookstores have just opened in Plano and Oak Cliff.  The new shops are not your typical booksellers, though. Not in North Texas. For one thing, Legacy Books in Plano is […]


  • The KERA radio story:
  • The expanded online story:

Books and bookstores are supposed to be dying. But despite the internet and the dire economy, new bookstores have just opened in Plano and Oak Cliff.  The new shops are not your typical booksellers, though. Not in North Texas.

For one thing, Legacy Books in Plano is big. Located at Legacy Road and the Dallas North Tollway, it has 24,000 square feet, and it stocks some 110,000 book titles. That’s the size of a Borders or  Barnes & Noble superstore. But Legacy isn’t a chain store. It’s independently owned. And most independents aren’t that big. Elsewhere in the country, major independents are considered some of the best bookstores around – places like Elliot Bay in Seattle or Book People in Austin. But in North Texas, Legacy is the first (therefore, only) major independent.

The store in the Shops at Legacy is the brainchild of Teri Tanner. She practically grew up in retail. She worked for both Barnes & Noble and Borders — most recently as the regional director of sales for Borders.

TANNER: “I’ve been building this store in my head for 25 years – because you listen to a bookseller or a cashier or the cleaning crew that says, “I just wish this” or “I just wish that” – and that’s what we’ve tried to do here.”

Teri Tanner in Legacy

Construction continues because although Legacy Books is open, the official grand opening is November 7. Deanne Teeter led the Legacy design team for the firm, Morrison Seifert Murphy. She points out the store’s demonstration kitchen as one of Tanner’s innovations.

TEETER: “She really wanted to have chefs that are signing their books, that they can actually cook. So this was a real design challenge and an opportunity for the space. There’s a camera over there, and it displays over the cooking section on the TV, and it can be back there on the TV. So if you can’t actually get into this space to see it, you can see it here as well.”

Deanne Teeter of Morrison Seifert Murphy in the cafe

Other highlights are a café that serves beer and wine and a third-floor gallery that displays books on photography and architecture as if they were artworks. Speaking of artworks, sculptures and paintings are on display by area artists Tamara White, Elizabeth McDonald and Seth Schwaiger.

But what distinguishes successful independents is their book selection and customer service. With the right mix and the right diligence, an independent can become a favorite, local cultural institution like a museum or library. Meg Smith is marketing director for the American Booksellers Association.

SMITH: “What people look to an independent bookstore for is a sense of real personalization – in selling, in choices of reading material. And it really takes on the identity of the people that shop there. And very naturally, independent bookstores have been a center for a lot of community activity.”

One survey has found that the top two kinds of stores that people hope will open near them are bookshops and bakeries. That’s good news for Jorge Alvarez and Gilbert Barrola. They’ve just opened Dicho’s in the Bishop Arts District (It’s at the corner of Seventh and Bishop — the former home of the Nodding Dog coffeeshop.) In the back of the bookstore is a café run by Cretia’s, the bakery on McKinney Avenue. At only 1300 square feet, Dicho’s is cozy — and smells of cookies.

Jorge Alvarez, co-owner of Dicho’s at Seventh and Bishop

Dichos is Spanish for “old sayings” and the store features both English and Spanish-language books. (Alvarez explains that the odd apostrophe, which suggests there’s someone named Dicho involved with the store, came about because the word, dichos, was trademarked in California.) Alvarez started a bookstore in Pomona, California six years ago with his partner, and then opened a Dicho’s in Gainesville, Texas, near the Oklahoma border, that the pair still run. They commute to Dallas.

ALVAREZ: “One of our goals is to make our store feel comfortable and home-like. In California, we were in an art colony, so we were surrounded by art galleries and culture. When we came to Bishop Arts, we felt we were at home again.”

In Plano, Legacy Books aims to be a destination store, a shrine for booklovers all over Texas — and beyond. Dicho’s aim is much smaller. There isn’t a single Borders or Barnes & Noble anywhere near Oak Cliff.

Interior of Dicho’s

ALVAREZ: “There’s no general bookstore that services the community. So we definitely found a niche where we feel that people are eager to have a bookstore.”

Many people believe that bookstores are doomed because of online sellers like Amazon.com, even though Amazon sells less than 10 percent of all books. Actually, a much bigger threat is posed by big-box stores like Wal-Mart or Target, which skim off the bestsellers.

Yet if anyone understands the risks and the low-profit margin nature of bookselling, it’s Tanner or Alvarez. And they remain optimistic.

TANNER: “I have to tell you, in some of the cities that I’ve been in with Barnes & Noble and with Borders, if you can do what they do in some of these locations, it’s impossible for me to believe that we will not be successful.”

  • I’ve worked in a number of bookstores in Dallas. Helped close the Doubleday Downtown, worked at some chain bookstores, and worked at some fine indie Mom and Pop stores.
    Here’s a few hard lessons you new bookstores will have to face.
    1. Oftentimes you can buy a book cheaper at Wal-Mart than you can at your wholesaler.
    2. Your customers will know this, buy the bulk of bestsellers at a discount at the mainstream bookstores, and take all their hard-to-find special orders to you – where your discount and thus profit is almost nil. Wal-mart won’t have any customer service, but they’ll get all the profit.
    3. Christmas sales is everything. Ouch! this Christmas may be a tough one. Also note we have some fine used book stores like Paperbacks Plus, and Half Price Books. People may go used to save money in these hard times.
    4. There is an ongoing protest from indie stores as a group, that they cannot get the same amount of discount from mainstream publishers as the major sellers like Wal Mart do.
    5. Don’t forget indie publications like zines or the works of local writers. Adding these to your stock adds local writers to your store.
    6. Mainstream novels are in a slump now but retain outrageous price tags. Nonfiction is usually padded out 10 page essays and they too carry outrageous price tags. Both are hard to sell.
    I’ve had to close 3 bookstores, and one more I worked in in Northpark is long gone. Every indie NEW bookstore in Dallas that I’ve loved over decades has long gone out of business. You do know you are crazy to buck the odds? But I also love bookstores and am glad you are trying.
    Good luck!

  • The Bishop Arts District is a wonderful collection of unique shops and restaurants that is fully supported by the local community and others from around the area. Dicho’s is a great fit in this neighborhood.

    Welcome to the neighborhood!

  • Isabel Cevallos

    My goodness, after dinner last night we stopped at Legacy Books, felt comfortable, fun, and filling. The chef made us crepes, we sat and he told us stories. Imagine telling tales at a bookstore, haven’t seen that kind of customer service in years. Guess where I’m going on Friday nights. You can’t help but buy a book , simply to thank them for being there.

  • June Covington

    I stopped in to see Dicho’s this evening with my daughter during first Thursday night.. we were very impressed and we will be shopping there again.

  • I am so proud of you!!!!! I am so jealous that you are not so far away. I miss your bookstore in the Pomona Arts Colony. Nothing has been the same since you left. I wish you all the success in the whole world.

    I will be there to visit you soon.

    I hope I’ll find some of my photography hanging in your beautiful new store.

    Love and hugs.