Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 24, Number 2, Fall 2012 Page: 30
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Cokesbury Book Store
The Premiere Book Store in the Southwest
BY JANE LENZ ELDER
,n September 26, 1949, Time Magazine ran a
brief article in its Retail Trade section, announcing
the opening of an extension to Dallas's Cokesbury
Book Store, a branch of the Methodist Church's
Publishing House. Such an announcement might
usually have fallen outside of the scope of a national
news magazine, except that this addition-linking
a five-story building on Main Street to a three-
story annex facing onto Commerce-made the
Cokesbury Book Store the largest single book
store in the United States.' To mark this event,
more than one hundred publishers coordinated
the Dallas release of their books with the opening
of the new half-million dollar addition on
September 19, according to The Dallas Morning
News.2 The newspaper also quoted Cokesbury's
manager, J. E "Bliss" Albright, as saying that the
store housed over 71,000 unique titles, enjoyed
$1,650,000 in annual sales, and boasted a mail-
order service that reached 49,000 customers in a
five-state area.3While Time confidently attributed
some of these statistics to Texas braggadocio,
stating that Manhattan stores Brentano's and
Macy's disputed Cokesbury's claim as the nation's
largest book store, the fact remained that by 1949
Cokesbury Book Store was indeed the premiere
book store in the southwestern United States.
Eastern literati may be excused for snickering
at the pretensions of a Methodist book store
located in a medium-sized city they usually
associated with cowboys, tumbleweeds, and
possibly Neiman Marcus. Unless they had visited
Dallas, they had no reason to be aware of its lively
book scene, supported by the likes of the book
collector and oil man Everette Lee DeGolyer or
the Harvard-educated retailer, Stanley Marcus.
"This is a reading community," wrote author and
Texas historian Lon Tinkle. "Books now seem as
natural on the Texas prairies as oil derricks ... or as
they do in Boston or London."4 Tinkle perceived
this shift in the Dallas landscape as a cultural
maturing, a "healthy sign of growing out of the
provincial.""5 Certainly the quantity and quality
of book stores in the downtown area supported
this statement. SMU librarian and scholar David
R. Farmer called the mid-twentieth century the
"golden era of personalized bookselling in Dallas,"
noting that during these years between eighteen
and thirty book shops were listed in Dallas city
directories.6 Statistically, Dallasites spent six dollars
per capita on books in contrast to the national
average of two dollars per capita.7 Some names to
bring a smile to the face of older Dallas bibliophiles
included Schmalzried's on Main Street, the Little
Book Shop at the corner of Ervay and Pacific
(with a second outlet in the lobby of the Adolphus
Hotel), and later McMurray's Personal Bookshop
There is no doubt that Cokesbury Book
Store contributed to this shift in the cultural life
of Dallas, but how did a small denominational
book shop grow into a million-dollar-plus retail
and wholesale operation that far surpassed its
mission as an outlet for a church's publishing
30 LEGACIES Fall 2012
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Dallas Historical Society. Legacies: A History Journal for Dallas and North Central Texas, Volume 24, Number 2, Fall 2012, periodical, Autumn 2012; Dallas, Texas. (https://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth308998/m1/32/: accessed September 30, 2023), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, https://texashistory.unt.edu; crediting Dallas Historical Society.