Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Freeway Free in Texas: Archer City – a Dream Decayed

Being fans of Larry McMurtry since “Lonesome Dove” and “Terms of Endearment”, my friend W and I were eager to visit his Book City in North Central Texas, although we knew that since his death in 2021 the huge collection of antiquarian books for sale in his home town of Archer Cit had been scaled back.

In Georgetown, waiting for W to pick me up for the start of our North Central Texas adventure, I am on the internet. I happen on a story about Larry McMurtry’s memorabilia being up for auction, which mentions casually that his bookstore is closed.    I google around and find that Booked Up is “Temporarily Closed.”  A further exploration reveals that Booked Up is now operating solely online, and the properties in Archer City have been sold to Chip Gaines, a Texas media personality who specializes in renovations of “fixer-uppers.” What would be left of Larry McMurtry’s dream?

We drive north west under an amazing sky of clouds that look like rolls of cotton batting spread out like fat fingers across the sky and the horizon visible in every direction, and arrive at Archer City.

It must have been a small miracle for the town when Larry McMurtry came back home and began throwing money into rejuvenating the place with his dream book store. And then the Black Swan – Amazon – came along and sucked all the life out of the business. Why travel to the other side of Nowhere when you could order the book shipped to you online?

The commemorative T-shirt above sells the original vision – The picturesque sandstone Courthouse, with its matching jail converted into a County Museum, the Booked Up storefront, Royal Theatre marquee, and “Home of Larry McMurtry” prominently featured,

The first impression of Archer City is like imagining what Brigadoon was like after the magic spell was broken. All of McMurtry’s bookstores are closed, The Lonesome Dove B&B, converted from a former hospital building, has closed. The iconic Royal Theatre which was featured in the classic film “Last Picture Show” has had its marquee restored, and its neon sign still glows, but walking around the corner reveals that it is a hollow shell. The plan to turn the old jail into an atmospheric County Museum has been shelved, the site surrounded by a cyclone fence, and the place has pretty near returned to its post-oil pre-McMurtry status.

Coming next: What to do in Archer City now that the bookstore is closed.


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