Freeway Free in Texas: A Big Dream in Big Sky Country
Larry McMurtry had a dream. He had had considerable success as an author and screenwriter, and he had a renowned antiquarian book store, Booked Up, in Virginia, near Washington DC. But “the sky in Virginia is too small.” McMurtry was lonesome for the endless horizons of North Texas, where he grew up in the small (pop. 1200) ranching town of Archer City. He dreamed of creating a marvelous bookshop there, the kind of store that booklovers would come to as a destination, no matter how out of the way.
And then lightning struck, in the form of a blockbuster novel, “Lonesome Dove,” which was made into a hit TV series, and was followed by several nearly – as-successful book and TV sequels. McMurtry had all the money he needed to make his dream real. He went back to Archer City and purchased what had been an oil well equipment repair shop, a former Ace hardware store, and two other buildings with ample warehouse space behind. He labeled each building Booked Up #1, #2, #3, and #4, established that each would specialize in particular kinds of books (literature, History, biography, travel, etc.) and brought in an inventory of over 400,000 books.
For a while the dream sparkled. Archer City had originally been a ranching town, then enjyed a brief oil boom which killed off most of the ranching, and now it seemed that Booked Up might revive it once more as a tourist center. The old Spur Hotel was refurbished, a vintage house near the center of town became a B & B called the Lonesome Dove, the old Mobil gas station became a Visitor’s Information Center, and the community planned to repurpose the old County Jail as a County Museum.
Then two unfortunate and unforeseen events happened: The first was the black swan which upended the bookseller business: the Internet, with online bookstores like Ex Libris and Amazon. The second: McMurtry had a heart attack. The two events convinced McMurtry that instead of leaving his heirs a golden legacy in the form of Booked Up, the store was more likely to be an albatross around their necks. He decided to sell off much of the inventory. After the sale, 150,000 books remained in the former Ace Hardware building, Booked Up #1.
And then the third blow: Larry McMurtry died.
He left the remaining inventory, plus the four properties, to the woman who had been running the bookstore for him. Could one storefront alone maintain the cachet that McMurtry had provided? W and I, both of us fans of used bookstores and McMurtry, decide to go find out.
(To Be Continued)
My debut novel, Fox Spirit, is appearing episode by episode on my sister blog, ajmccready.wordpress.com. New episodes arrive every Monday and Thursday. They’re short, so you’re not too late to check them out, and sign up for future happenings. Here’s a link to the first episode: http://ajmccready.wordpress.com/2023/02.