Jul 28, 2022 - Things to Do

50 years of Half Price Books

We like big books, and we cannot lie. Photo: Courtesy of Half Price Books

You don't have to be an avid reader or comic book collector or vinyl shopper to appreciate the business savvy and staying power behind Half Price Books, which just celebrated its 50th birthday.

Why it matters: The Dallas-based business started as a mom-and-pop bookseller in a converted laundromat and has grown to 120 stores in 19 states, including newish locations in Nashville and Boise.

  • The bookstore survived the pandemic shutdowns by being debt-free and cautious in expanding.

State of play: The bookseller has also survived the rise of big box stores and online sellers (cough cough Amazon), and weathered recessions and the ever-changing popularity of some mediums, like tape cassettes (which are cool again?).

  • Its resilience is largely because of the long-time leadership of CEO Sharon Anderson Wright, the daughter of one of the founders, and her right hand, president Kathy Doyle Thomas, who's been with the company for 33 years.

Flashback: Half Price Books opened on July 27, 1972, at the corner of Inwood and Lovers. It was a family affair for founders Ken Gjemre and Pat Anderson, whose children helped paint and put the store's flyers in nearby windows.

  • People often assume Half Price started in Austin, but Anderson Wright reminds them that there were hippies in Dallas in the '70s too. The founders were staunch supporters of the First Amendment and vowed to accept any content at the store.
  • Anderson Wright has been running the business since her mother died in 1995.

What they're saying: Community is a big part of the Half Price ethos. All of the stores feature the same hand-built wooden shelves organized into alcoves where people can sit on the carpeted floor.

  • "It's a great place for people to see other people. And I think post-pandemic, people need to see other people," Anderson Wright tells Axios.

Of note: At least 75% of the store's merchandise is bought from the public, so each store is different. The rest of the inventory is made up of overstock new releases, puzzles, new Bibles (people don't sell those much), cookbooks and children's books.

Fun fact: The store sells books by the yard in a variety of colors and styles. They were especially popular during the shutdown when many people were on Zoom for work.

  • Anderson Wright says she watches TV interviews differently now and looks to see who has books for show and who is likely a regular reader.

Our thought bubble: Your favorite Axios Dallas writers don't even want to estimate how many hundreds of dollars they've spent on books and records at Half Price. But it's a lot.

Pat Anderson and Sharon Anderson Wright stand outside a Half Price Books location in the 1980s. Photo: Courtesy of Half Price Books

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