Red Letter Secondhand Books has always been the type of store where a person can spend hours searching, only to find a book they didn’t realize they needed.
“It became a destination, this portal to another dimension,” longtime customer Whit Griffin said.
So much so that the Denver resident bought a P.O. Box in Boulder so he’d have a reason to come to Boulder and peruse the ceiling-high shelves.
But on Wednesday, Griffin was at Red Letter for a different purpose. Griffin and other volunteers helped pack up boxes of books from the store. The secondhand bookstore, which has called Pearl Street home for more than three decades, closed its physical location last week. The store had to move out of its space at 1737 Pearl St. because of impending development.
The plan for the space, according to earlier reporting from the Camera, calls for the demolition of two existing buildings and the construction of a new 28,222-square-foot structure. It will include almost 9,500 square feet of retail space and a public courtyard on the first floor and 14 apartments on the second and third floors.
It’s being developed by Boulder resident Adam Wertz’s 1737 Pearl LLC and 1727 Pearl Boulder LLC. The building is going through asbestos abatement in May, and Wertz said he’s hopeful demolition can begin in June. If everything goes as planned, the new development could be ready in fall 2022.
Wertz said he’s not prepared to share many specifics about what’s in the works but noted his company will continue to own and operate the majority of the businesses on the first floor. He said he’s committed to supporting local businesses, particularly those with regenerative practices.
“It’s important for us to be able to create something that gives back to the community and that we can be proud of,” he said.
He also said the development team is building space for a bookstore or library, and Wertz said he’s begun conversations with Red Letter owner Seth Rowland about potentially being involved with that piece of the project.
“I understand Red Letter is an institution,” Wertz said. “It is hopefully our intention to keep him there in some way, shape or form.”
But Rowland isn’t sure what’s next for him at this point. More than anything, Rowland wants people to know that the store did not close because of the pandemic. Moving out has been an overwhelming process for Rowland, who said he wasn’t fully prepared for its scale. Boxes of books packed into PODS behind the store were to be transported to Rowland’s home in Loveland, and sales will continue online until he decides what to do.
“This is 31 years,” Rowland said. “This is a lived-in building.”
There’s a soul in a used book shop and a craft to selling books that simply won’t be the same when the store moves fully online, Rowland said. In person, he gets to know his customers and can offer tailored book suggestions.
Red Letter has been a Pearl Street fixture since Jon Murray opened it in 1990. When Murray decided to retire, he sold it to Rowland, an employee who had once owned another used bookstore not far from Red Letter called “Happenstance.”
Jessie Rodriguez, a friend and customer who helped with the final stages of the move on Wednesday, echoed Griffin’s thoughts about the nature of Red Letter’s physical location.
“It’s the place you’d come and lose yourself,” she said.
Rodriguez began a GoFundMe campaign to help Rowland with the move.
“Stores like Red Letter are what makes Boulder a place people want to come visit,” the GoFundMe page reads. “People aren’t traveling to Pearl Street to see national chains, bank cafes and vacant spaces. They come to see the places that can’t be found everywhere.”
Wertz said he understands people are nervous about change. Still, he views the project as a benefit to the community, one that will “change things for the positive but still bring back that grit and that free spirit that has been pushed out of Boulder.”
Looking around at the group helping him pack up thousands of books and the empty shelves in his store, Rowland reflected on how emotional the process has been. At times, he’s been sad. At other times, he’s been angry.
He’s not sure whether there’s a space for a store such as Red Letter on Pearl Street anymore, but he is certain of one thing: “This is the most community I’ve felt in Boulder.”
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