Independent Bookseller Under Seige

This is a video of a demonstration at Tattered Cover Bookstore in Denver. Tattered Cover is one of the larger independent bookstores in the country and it’s owner, Joyce Meskis, has often found herself in the center of free speech issues, including in 2001 standing up against FBI agents who demanded the record of books bought by a customer they were investigating under the Patriot Act.

This demonstration by members of Occupy Denver concerns Denver’s attempt to stop the homeless from camping out overnight downtown. Tattered Cover refuses to take a stand on the matter under the principal that booksellers must remain politically neutral in order to protect the constitutional rights of all their customers, as well as the larger community outside their doors.

First amendment challenges come in many forms and some are not as obvious as others. The following is the bookstore’s explanation of its belief. Please support Tattered Cover and the importance of independent booksellers to our communities:

Dear Customers,

Welcome to the Tattered Cover and special thanks for visiting us today. As you can see the Occupy Denver folks and their colleagues, who are attempting to pressure the Tattered Cover to rescind its 40-year history of serving its customers without political bias, are also visiting us.

As booksellers we also have a long history of protecting freedom of speech (the only issue upon which we DO take a vigorous public stand, and to a much lesser infrequent degree matters of internal importance to the book industry.) Consequently, we support their First Amendment rights to assemble, picket, protest and voice their opinions, even while we consider their actions misplaced, misguided and misspoken with regard to the Tattered Cover.

Why is the Tattered Cover being singled out in this way?

Because we have refused to cave in to their demand to take a public stand against the overnight camping ban ordinance which was passed by the Denver City Council last year.

Are you for the Camping Ban?

The Tattered Cover does not take a public position, pro or con, on any political issue except censorship and to a much lesser degree on matters of internal importance to the book industry. It is not a matter of neutrality. It is a nonjudgmental political and social standard that we as professional booksellers apply to our inventory selections, author events, and to the welcome we extend to all of our customers no matter what their political, social, economic or religious persuasion. The Tattered Cover strives to offer a haven for all kinds of ideas that can be explored, agreeable or disagreeable; where those who seek to think critically and develop their own political and social ideals can do so unencumbered by what others want them to think, read or do. We do not inhibit them by pushing our own individual agendas or any official store position; nor do we allow a vocal minority from the outside to coerce us into deciding for our customers what they “should” be reading, thinking or promoting.

Is the Tattered Cover a member of the Denver Partnership? Didn’t they lobby for the Camping Ban ordinance?

Tattered Cover is a member of several organizations, including the Denver Partnership. For the most part these are memberships that provide us with tools of our trade that encourage best practices in bookselling, engagement with our community or information and support regarding First Amendment challenges. As with any membership, there are issues with which we may be in agreement or disagreement from time to time. However, the Tattered Cover does not take a public stand on them.

The protesters claim that by not taking a public stand against the Ban that the Tattered Cover supports it.

In this case, they are using faulty logic. The reasons behind Tattered Cover’s policy are neither avoidance nor veiled support of the Ban but rather a strong sense of commitment to the unfettered support of the individual’s freedom to read and the pursuit of information.
We at the Tattered Cover Book Store thank you for your visit today. And we hope to continue to serve you as you explore the world of books in the future.

Joyce Meskis Owner, Tattered Cover Book Store
Today, we may have some visitors who have never been to the Tattered Cover before. We respectfully ask that the behaviors listed below are followed today and everyday –

1. Display appropriate civility and respectful behavior to TC staff and other customers.
2. Do not interfere with the peaceful browsing of other customers.
3. Do not solicit in the store.
4. Do not pass out literature in the store to customers; place it in books, on shelves, or anywhere within the store without permission.
5. Do not participate in disruptive or violent behavior of any kind in the store.
6. Be respectful of property. Do not deface, steal, hide, or otherwise damage books for sale or on display.
7. Do not spread personal items in the way of others.
8. Sleeping is not permitted. However, a short doze may be permitted if the store is not busy.
9. Recognize that the store is made to be available for all of its customers. Do not monopolize its seating or tables.
10. The store is not a place to loiter without engagement with the books.
11. Understand that the store is a business, obligated to pay rent, its employees and overhead expenses. It is not a personal living room, office or library. You may be asked to leave if you don ‘t purchase something at least once in a while.
12. Clothing must be worn in the store, including shirt and shoes. However, no masks or face coverings are permitted. (Burqas excepted)

Challenges to the first amendment come in many forms, not just from the Patriot Act or people who think banning books or limiting the right to expression. Denver may be wrong but that does not mean

Published by

pat willard

Grew up in Philadelphia. Live in Brooklyn. Written four books best described as about memory and cultural history, food and some pretty good recipes. Works in progress may be viewed at

One thought on “Independent Bookseller Under Seige”

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