21 October 2014

The history of Half-Price Books

I believe I visited the flagship Half-Price Books store when it opened in Dallas in the 1970s, and I still shop at the local one here in Madison.  An article at Fortune describes the remarkable rise of this classic bootstrap business, and why it continues to thrive.
[In 1972] They found a 2,000-square-foot location on Lovers Lane in Dallas. It was a ratty old laundromat. The monthly rent was $174. We cleaned it up, built our own shelves, and painted it. We’d load the trucks, unstop the toilet, everything...

There weren’t many bookstores at all back then. Ours was an original concept. Pat and Ken wanted to make sure there were affordable reading options for everyone in a comfortable, inviting place to shop. By buying all the items people brought in, they weren’t censoring anyone. We’d pay cash for anything printed or recorded except yesterday’s newspaper, which meant we had current offerings to sell. It was different from other used bookstores, where you traded for books, or high-end antiquarian stores, which intimidated people. We did so well, we opened our second location eight months later in a former meat-storage place... But we never were fancy people, so I don’t think we would have noticed any hardships. We ate ravioli out of a can and hamburger casseroles...

I became president and CEO. I was scared to death. It was 1995, and I was 37... In 1995 we had 55 stores, with $50 million in sales. I had had no formal education... We only did what we could afford to pay for, so we always operated on a cash basis... Because we are private and don’t have to answer to shareholders, we can expand at our own pace. Plus, our inventory is different than most traditional book retailers’ and is lower in cost, so that gives us a different customer base. We’re trying to be a bookstore, record store, antiquarian store, and comic-book store...

I could have been filthy rich many times over if I’d sold the company. But I didn’t because I would have left the people who did all the work to suffer.  
Kudos to this lady and her management team. More at the link.


  1. Good for her!
    Like you, Stan, I believe I went to the first store in Dallas, and certainly one on Mockingbird Lane just across from Dr Pepper. I love HPB and trade with them often here in Austin. The stores have all standardized now to a more clean, modern, consistent look, which is fine, but I do still miss the older, funkier stores and the sense of mystery they gave one. You never knew what you'd come across and often felt like you could find a treasure up in some dusty and dim corner that had been overlooked for years.

  2. I frequent a Half-Price Books in Webster TX (just south of Houston). I buy books there but the main draw for me is music. This store usually has an enormous supply of used CDs for $1 to $3. I go there every 2-3 months and usually spend close to $20.


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