Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the tag “Larry McMurtry”

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.


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, 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:

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