Breaking: BookBar will close in January after a decade of serving the local literary community
In February, there will be a significant hole in Denver’s literary landscape. After a decade of service to the bibliophile community, BookBarthe unique hybrid bookstore and wine bar at 4280 Tennyson Street is writing its final chapter.
Nicole Sullivan decided to open BookBar in 2012 when she saw the Bookery Nook, a local bookstore on Tennyson, was closing. At the time, Tennyson was aptly described with words like “quaint” and “bohemian,” but those days are long gone. Sullivan plans to permanently close the doors on January 31, 2023.
BookBar quickly rose through the ranks of Denver bookstores with its focus on local authors and its partnerships with institutions such as Colorado Humanities/Center for the Book and Lighthouse Writers Workshop. While other booksellers such as Tattered Cover began to focus more and more on hosting well-established authors, BookBar was a place where an aspiring writer could still read their work to a grateful audience. It has hosted a number of community literary events, from Colorado Book Awards Finalist Readings to a consistent schedule of author events, children’s story times, end-of-year parties, book clubs and reading series. There was rarely a time when BookBar’s schedule wasn’t full.
“It’s been a journey,” Sullivan says. “In 2013 we started with just the front section of an 1896 Victorian that had retail space built on the front in 1948.” Since then, BookBar has been in an almost constant state of expansion. He took over the residential spaces at the back of the building and on the second floor, and by 2015 Sullivan had expanded the children’s section and built a garden patio gathering space in the backyard. Before making the decision to close, she considered turning a garage into a larger space with offices built above it.
Sullivan says she started considering closing when the pandemic hit. “In March 2020 – the day we realized we were closing our doors and didn’t know when or if we could reopen – I thought, ‘Well, this is it. We had a good race,” she recalls. “Who knew what life would be like in the next few months?
“Meanwhile, I was surprised to find that I was a bit relieved,” she admits. “I had worked so hard for so long, and all of a sudden, [with] with all that work taken off the table, I was able to spend more time with my family. I cooked dinner for them every night and looked forward to it. I was like, ‘Wow, life could be something like that.’
But Sullivan says she “should have known that our community would rally around us and that readers would change their buying habits to keep independent bookstores alive. It was a surprise, but it shouldn’t have been. We have such great customers and people were reading more. In 2020, BookBar’s total revenue was only 10% lower than it was the year before, according to Sullivan. bar revenue fell 85%, she adds, showing how much book purchases have increased to mitigate those losses.
The reopening, however, came so abruptly that it was hard to regain the same footing the store had before COVID. “After we opened in 2013, I had a good seven years to slowly build back to where we were in 2020. But when we were allowed to reopen, it felt like we were set to achieve the same buildup virtually day to day. next day,” Sullivan explains. “I didn’t have the level of staff that I had in the past. This made me start thinking about an exit strategy.
And then there was another minimum wage increase that would begin in January 2023. “I was like, ‘There’s no way,’” Sullivan recalled. “I can’t make those numbers work. The margins are just too tight. Books themselves are already one of the low-margin retail products. But when I was paying just over $7 an hour in 2013, and now it’s going to be almost $18? The price of books has not increased as much – perhaps 5-7% over the minimum wage which has increased 120% over the same period. I don’t know how you make it work. I don’t know how anyone is going to make it work.
Sullivan admits it’s a difficult situation. “The minimum wage should go up,” she quickly adds. ” It must. People need to earn a living wage. But if there’s no money… I just couldn’t make it work.
When it comes to bookstores, there’s also an additional lack of revenue control. “Booksellers can’t raise their prices at all,” Sullivan says. “I can’t think of many products that cost the same, no matter what the local economy dictates. The cost of something in Aspen, Colorado should not be the same as the cost of that same item in a small town in the Midwest.
It’s not that BookBar hasn’t succeeded in its decade of existence. He won several Westword‘s Best of Denver Awards in various categories over the years. It has been highlighted in outlets such as Forbes, Fodor’sHuffington Post and really simple. Sullivan herself has been honored several times for her work, most recently with the 2022 Boucher Community Honor Roll Award for Promoting Intellectual Freedomawarded by the Colorado Library Association.
BookBar has also created several side businesses and charitable entities, including Airbnb/Guest Quarters BookBed; the small independent publisher Press BookBar; and, most notably, BookGive, which aims to support literacy by putting books in the hands for free. Other than BookBed, which has been closed since the pandemic, these efforts will remain open. BookGive just opened a public space at its facilities, which Sullivan owns, at 4890 Lowell Boulevard, and BookBar Press will also continue. Sullivan owns the BookBar property, but she shakes her head and smiles when asked if she would sell it. She doesn’t have any plans for the building yet.
“Nothing is ever on the table, I guess,” she said. “If someone approached me with a stupid amount of money, then I might think about it. But in good conscience, I couldn’t present it as a viable business for anyone to buy. If I can’t make the numbers work…. I don’t know, maybe there’s someone out there who can make something out of it, but at the same time, I feel like I’m selling a of my children. I don’t know how I could leave.
“Also, since we own the building, I would have to sell everything or else get involved in some way, and that would bring me back inside,” she muses. “I can tell you one thing: it’s not good for the developers.”
Just recently, the literary community showed support for another local bookstore, Mutiny Information Cafe, after the building was seized by the city due to unpaid taxes. Mutiny quickly launched a GoFundMe to raise the $42,126 owed. In 24 hours, the bookstore raised over $50,000. But Sullivan says a similar move wouldn’t make a difference to BookBar’s fate, pointing out that there’s a significant difference between the two situations: BookBar’s issues are more about long-term sustainability, which GoFundMe isn’t. designed to solve.
“We anticipate that we will receive all kinds of offers for funding and assistance in different ways, but honestly, even $50,000 would be just a band-aid,” Sullivan says. “It’s such an expensive business to run. I’ll be asking people to just support other independent bookstores that desperately need your help. Finances are definitely a factor, but mostly I’m willing to move on. thing and lead a less stressful life.”
Sullivan will continue her legacy with The Bookies in Glendale, which she bought last year after the death of its founder and longtime owner, Sue Lubeck. “It relieves some of the pressure we have on The Bookies and that it will stay open and operational,” she says. “I look forward to devoting more time and attention to this very special store and its kind-hearted employees, who are such dedicated champions of literacy and freedom of expression. Many of them are former librarians. It is the tough guys who are currently blocking our democracy. With that in mind, Sullivan plans for the store to take on as much slack in terms of author events and literary outreach as possible.
His plans for the last months of BookBar are “to have as much fun as possible.” To have one last happy holiday season, hang out with BookBar regulars, see our customers as much as possible, to keep things as stress free as possible for the staff. After that, I don’t know,” she said. “I hope we can fill this space with a responsibly run community business. We want to be kind to our neighbors and true to the building’s history and end BookBar’s run with as much gratitude and goodwill as we felt in the beginning.
BookBar, 4280 Tennyson Street, is open until the end of January 2023. For more information, see the BookBar website.