After nearly five years, Lucky Dog Books has left Lochwood.
When Lucky Dog proprietors John and Marquetta Tilton sold the building on Garland Road, they planned to move to a better location just across the street. The owners backed out of the deal at the last minute, however, leaving the Tiltons scrambling to again find a new home for their used bookstore. Loyal customers hauled and packed books, bought gift certificates, and matched donations to help the bargain bookstore afford its new home in the Casa Linda shopping center. The lease is only for a year: The store will have to prove that it can succeed there, or possibly see itself go the way of so many other used bookstores.
The Tiltons are used to curve balls. Since opening Paperbacks Plus in Mesquite in 1974, the husband and wife have run things on a shoestring budget, negotiating “sweetheart deals” for the spaces that became their longest-lasting locations. (They began using the name Lucky Dog in the 1990s when they discovered a store elsewhere in the country also using the Paperbacks Plus name.) Along the way, the Tiltons helped start stores in San Antonio and Austin, which they ran from a distance—the Austin store, Voltaire’s Basement, famously hosted punk bands from all over the country—until their son’s birth in 1988 made the constant driving unsustainable.
The East Dallas location moved three times before this, once after losing a lease in Lakewood, again after a fire, and to Lochwood in 2012. After the last move, the Tiltons opened their third location in Oak Cliff—something John Tilton now wishes they had waited to do until the Lochwood location was better-established. The Oak Cliff store got off to a slow start, and Lochwood’s revenue often had to keep it afloat.
Despite the celebrated “literary renaissance” in Dallas, the used book industry here has struggled. Of the many used bookstores the city once boasted, only a few remain—chiefly the Half Price Books chain and the Tilton stores. Many people blame e-books and online booksellers like Amazon for the downturn. Tilton, however, contends that what matters most is not how people buy their books, but how people spend their time. Where books once only had to compete with a few TV shows and movie re-runs, they now lose to the endless content coming from internet and independent television producers.
“It’s gotten to the point where you really have to be a dedicated reader to still make time for it,” he says. “Luckily, a lot of people still do.” Tilton compares physical books to vinyl records, which have seen a surprising resurgence. Why would someone buy vinyl when they could have a whole music library on their phone? “You could have almost the entire world on this one thing in your hand,” he says. “I can only imagine that [vinyl is] something real in their lives, something that isn’t virtual.” People return to print books, he believes, for the same reason.
Tilton is optimistic about the store’s future, likening it to a hermit crab that constantly adapts to new shells. At 7,700 square feet, the Casa Linda building is their biggest store yet. They plan to make a large community room for new programming, like “book parties,” less regimented versions of traditional book clubs, and promotional events from other Casa Linda merchants. Surrounded by restaurants, the store also promises to draw more pedestrians.
Tilton is confident people will like what they find if they’ll just stop in. People constantly tell him that they’ve driven by the store for years but never stopped, usually underestimating the size of the store and the volume of books that it holds.
“We’re hoping [to do] better in Casa Linda,” Tilton says, and pauses. “We need to.”