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Growing Up A Bibliophile

Park Hill Bookstore: Only 47 Years Old

By Sierra Fleenor

Executive Director, GPHC

The Park Hill Community Bookstore, on the business strip along 23rd Avenue between Cherry and Dexter streets. GPHN file photo

On a warm December morning, three volunteer leaders of the Park Hill Community Bookstore invited me to join them for a conversation about the origins of the bookstore, what’s happening now, and what lies ahead. We sat in the middle of the first floor, surrounded by shelves full of books.

As patrons came in to look for something to read, they were directed through the middle of our conversation to the other sections of the building. My companions were co-managers Jack and Pam Farrar and interim president of the board John Krause. The trio made easy conversation with patrons and joked about our “very important” conversation that patrons were interrupting. From the moment I stepped inside, I could tell why people love this neighborhood gem: books, camaraderie, and laughter.

The Park Hill Community Bookstore is on the business strip along 23rd Avenue between Cherry and Dexter streets. It was incorporated on May 6, 1971 after a group of residents pooled their money to buy new books and asked neighbors to donate used books. “We’re certainly the oldest continuously operated nonprofit bookstore” in Denver, says Jack Farrar.

The bookstore was initially operated as a women’s cooperative. “There were books, pottery, jewelry, and it was also a meeting place for various women’s activism groups,” Farrar says. The bookstore remained a cooperative until 2005, when state laws changed and the organization became a nonprofit business under Internal Revenue Code 501(c)(4).

Some things have since changed – books are now sold on as well as in the store, for example. But much has remained same as ever. The business model is the same; though there was a period when the manager was a paid position, the entire organization is again run by volunteers. The biggest change has been the addition of air conditioning and an updated heating system, which have made the bookstore far more comfortable.

Many of the current volunteers are the same stalwart bibliophiles who helped get it off the ground 47 years ago. Among the longtimers: Co-founder and current volunteer used books manager Helen Wolcott, since 1971; volunteer Bettina Basanow who was manager of the bookstore for a seven year stretch, since 1974; and the Farrars, since 1975. Of course, there are dozens more who were deeply involved during those founding years, and even more who have volunteered over the years.

Volunteers get involved with the bookstore for a variety of reasons, but the recurring theme shared by my companions was best summarized by Jack Farrar: “We take care of books here.”

Says Basanow: “If you have a book, you’re never alone.”

Every month thousands of books circulate through, as donations, purchases, and swapped items. They find new homes with tourists, members, students, and teachers. The bookstore has had a longtime focus on education, with access to literature for teachers and students.

“We have a policy to give [teachers] ten free books,” says Krause.

The bookstore recently launched a new program with five area high schools. “We’re giving five memberships [per school] to librarians to give to students who would like to come to the bookstore,” says Pam Farrar.

The bookstore currently has about 400 members and 40 volunteers. Members pay an annual fee to join the bookstore and get book credits in return. In addition to books, the bookstore also carries greeting cards, journals, and other gifts.

For more information, stop in to the bookshop or call 303-355-8508.

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