50 years of books at half price

You don’t have to be an avid reader or comic book collector or vinyl buyer to appreciate the business acumen and perseverance behind Half Price Books, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary.

Why is this important: The Dallas-based company started as a mom-and-pop bookseller in a converted laundromat and grew to become 120 stores in 19 states, including newer locations in Nashville and Boise.

  • The bookstore survived the pandemic closures by being debt-free and cautious in its expansion.

State of play: The bookseller has also survived the rise of big-box stores and online sellers (cough Amazon cough)and have withstood recessions and the ever-changing popularity of certain mediums, such as cassette tapes (who are still cool?).

  • Its resilience is largely due to the longtime leadership of CEO Sharon Anderson Wright, the daughter of one of the founders, and her right-hand man, President Kathy Doyle Thomas, who has been with the company for 33 years.

Rollback: Half Price Books opened on July 27, 1972, on 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 there was hippies in dallas in the 70s too. The Founders were strong supporters of the First Amendment and committed to accepting any content in the store.
  • Anderson Wright has run the business since his mother passed away in 1995.

What they say : Community is a big part of the Half Price philosophy. All stores feature the same handcrafted wooden shelves organized into alcoves where people can sit on the carpet.

  • “It’s a great place for people to see other people. And I think after the pandemic people need to see other people,” Anderson Wright told Axios.

To note : At least 75% of the store’s merchandise is purchased from the public, so every store is different. The rest of the inventory is overstock novelties, puzzles, new Bibles (people don’t sell many of them), cookbooks, and children’s books.

Fun fact: The store sells pounds per meter 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 looks at TV interviews differently now and looks to see who has books to show and who is likely a regular reader.

Our thought bubble: Your favorite Axios Dallas writers won’t even estimate how many hundreds of dollars they’ve spent on half-price books and records. But it’s a lot.

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


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