The Tattered Cover is a bookstore, or rather a pair of bookstores, located in Denver, Colorado. They number among the top five largest independent bookstores in the world, and are known around the world as one of the friendliest and most liberal bookstores around.
Joyce Meskis, the owner of Tattered Cover, purchased the original store on 2nd Avenue in 1974. The original was fairly large in itself, but was nothing compared to what it has become. The current "original" store, located in the affluent Cherry Creek district housed a four story department store before it was acquired by Joyce. Now it's a gigantic three floors and basement filled with books, with a fine dining restaurant called "The Fourth Story" on--you guessed it--the fourth floor.
About a decade ago, before Lower Downtown Denver was renovated, some of the historic buildings there were selling for a song. Joyce took advantage of this and purchased the Morey Mercantile Building at the corner of 16th and Wynkoop, which, in October of 1994, became the second Tattered Cover store. Now LoDo, as it's called by Denverites, is an affluent neighborhood with a baseball stadium and plenty of yuppie watering holes, and the second TC store is located right in the middle of all of that. While smaller than the Cherry Creek location, the LoDo store is also a gigantic building, filled to the rim with books. Three stories of books and the Victorian architecture make visiting the LoDo branch of Tattered Cover a must for many tourists.
The ambiance of the two stores varies as greatly as the types of customers who visit each, but the general atmosphere is similar. Antique furniture, hand-made decorations and signage, friendly and knowledgable staff, and a liberal browsing policy which at times makes the Tattered Cover seem more like a library than a bookstore. People are invited to sit on the antique chairs and couches located throughout the store and read or just hang out as long as they like.
Another thing that makes visiting the Tattered Cover worthwhile is the knowledge of the staff. Everyone who works there does so because they are bibliophiles who want to connect people with books, so if someone in the store is not able to identify a book based on a vague description, they'll send out an email to the entire staff asking someone to ID the book, so they can get back to the customer with a title and author as soon as possible.
No is a word rarely heard in Tattered Cover. If they don't have a book, they'll order it if it's in print. If you need something shipped anywhere in the world, they'll do it. If you have to return something, no problem or hassles. It's really no wonder that the store is such a tourist attraction.
The following statement is found throughout both stores:
TO OUR CUSTOMERS
A STATEMENT AND A PROMISE
Herein resides a vast array of books containing ideas as diverse as the world in which we live. We at the Tattered Cover sincerely believe that censorship in any form, whether by individuals or by government, would be seriously damaging to every citizen in this country. We believe that it is in the best interests of our democratic society that ideas of all kinds be allowed to flow freely to the individuals who seek them, regardless of what our own personal choices or tastes might be.
While we fully recognize that each of us makes personal choices about what is good or bad, right or wrong, valuable or worthless, we feel that it is not our right to make those choices for you in terms of your reading material or the authors who sign copies of their books at the store.
In fact, we feel that it is our responsibility to you, our customers, to resist any censorship legislation or special interest group pressure that would limit your right to make these choices for yourselves.
We promise that we will offer our very best service and honest suggestions to you about your reading choices should you elicit those opinions, but we will never proselytize nor will we ever censor any reading matter that you may seek.
The above mission statement was put to the test over the last couple of years--in front of the national press--as Joyce Meskis and the Tattered Cover resisted police efforts to sieze purchasing records.
In early 2000, Denver police raided a meth lab. They claimed to lack enough evidence to make a case, so they followed an obvious link. A discarded Tattered Cover mailing wrapper in the garbage which was addressed to one of the suspects. The police figured if they could link the address label to one of the books on creating a meth lab, they would be able to show a link to one of the suspects and so they went to the Tattered Cover to demand access to the suspects buying records.
Joyce resisted the search, and got a restraining order to keep the police from the files as she filed a lawsuit. She argues that a persons reading habits are constitutionally protected material and that the police have no business intruding into the distribution of ideas.
On April 8th, 2002, the Colorado Supreme Court agreed unanimously that bookstore records are constitutionally protected speech. And while the USA PATRIOT Act--which states that the government may search records in bookstores and libraries without a search warrant (or with the vague approximation of one from the so-called "Shadow Courts") without any notice to the reader being investigated, and that the persons or institutions searched cannot tell anyone that they have been contacted in such a way--may make that seem a more shallow victory, it remains an important statement on the freedom of ideas and sets a precedent for the future. The Colorado Supreme Court also does not operate in a vacuum, and it is quite possible that their ruling was also a commentary about the validity of the USA PATRIOT Act.