Chip Gaines is the new owner of Larry McMurtry’s sprawling bookstore in Archer City.
Gaines, who, with his wife, Joanna, parlayed TV fame into a lifestyle brand and retail complex, purchased the store in November. Residents and fans of Texas literature say they are hopeful the Fixer Upper co-star will be mindful of McMurtry’s legacy.
McMurtry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, essayist and screenwriter, died at 84 in March 2021. Booked Up has been closed for about a year in his birthplace, with rumors swirling over the fate of the thousands of titles housed inside.
“There’s still a lot of Larry’s legacy left,” said Dotty Hudson, who operates the local Spur Hotel with her husband, John. “But yeah, gosh, we have sure missed that bookstore.
“And we sure have high hopes that there’s a plan that something is in store to keep on honoring Larry’s legacy and bring visitors or bring people to our town.”
The bookstore’s sale was first reported in December by the Archer County News.
McMurtry’s family owned the properties since 1987. George Getschow, who taught at the University of North Texas’ Mayborn Graduate Institute of Journalism, said McMurtry bought vacant storefronts on the town square with the idea of stocking them with hundreds of thousands of books. His vision was to create a setting similar to the Welsh village of Hay-on-Wye, which started with one bookstore and evolved to accommodate dozens of booksellers, Getschow said.
“He wanted to take a bookless town and a bookless part of the state, and he wanted to turn into a book town,” Getschow said. “It looked like it might happen, but it never materialized completely.”
Still, Booked Up became a landmark in the town of about 1,800, sharing that distinction with The Royal Theater, the nearby movie house that inspired McMurtry’s novel The Last Picture Show and the 1971 film starring Cybill Shepherd and Jeff Bridges.
McMurtry’s son, James, told CNN his father bequeathed Booked Up to the store’s manager, Khristal Collins. Archer County property records show Collins sold the two bookstore buildings to a company controlled by Gaines.
On Wednesday, Collins opened an online version of Booked Up but confirmed to CNN that she no longer owns the building, nor its inventory.
Gaines’ Archer City roots
Residents are optimistic Gaines will honor McMurtry’s vision. So far, Gaines has been quiet about what’s planned for the store. But he’s spoken about his connection to the town, where his parents and grandparents grew up.
In 2019, Gaines told Cowboys & Indians magazine that he would spend summers at his grandfather’s place in Archer City where he grew to appreciate the farm and ranch lifestyle.
“My granddad’s name was J.B. — he was like the Marlboro Man,” Gaines said. “He was real lean and tall and always wore a cowboy hat, and was just the coolest guy in the world. I’d spend the summer out with J.B. and learned how to mend fences, and we’d ride horses.”
A spokesperson for Gaines said in a statement, “He loves this community and has been a big fan of Larry McMurtry for years. Chip is honored and excited to preserve this incredible book collection with the respect it deserves.”
In a tweet Thursday, Gaines paid tribute to McMurtry with a message punctuated with a heart emoji: “Larry McMurtry RIP.”
Larry McMurtry RIP ❤️ https://t.co/uV9o2quQC7— Chip Gaines (@chipgaines) February 23, 2023
“We hope that it will continue as a bookstore because it was always a draw from the workshop attendees,” said Kathy Floyd, who administers the Archer City Writers Workshop each year in Archer City.
Getschow, who has conducted the writers workshop and worked with McMurtry for more than a decade, is celebrating Gaines’ interest. He called a roadside marker outside of town recognizing McMurtry a positive step.
“My reaction is hip-hip hooray,” Getschow said. “And I have emotions about the town fathers putting up a marquee outside of Archer City. I say hip-hip hooray.
“I see some momentum to preserve Larry’s legacy, and that makes me very happy.”
Since the bookstore closed, the Hudsons have noticed a drop-off in the number of guests at their hotel.
“We have had so many people that were so disappointed this year because a lot of people do plan their trips or reroute their vacations to come through Archer City to go to the bookstore,” Dotty Hudson said. “I’ve definitely had phone calls from people that were so disappointed to find out it was closed, and some that just flat didn’t come to it for that reason.”
She hopes the Gaineses can do in Archer City something like what they’ve done in Waco with Magnolia Market at the Silos, their shopping center that has become a significant tourist attraction.
“I definitely hope they can bring their little magic touch to Archer City,” Hudson said. “That would be great for everybody. Our little town needs it.”
Read more about Chip and Joanna Gaines
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- Chip and Joanna Gaines of ‘Fixer Upper’ have a relative running for Grapevine-Colleyville ISD school board
- Gaineses’ filming ‘Fixer Upper’ again, and a Fort Worth entrepreneur will star in a new Magnolia Network show
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- Chip Gaines of HGTV sensation ‘Fixer Upper’ is getting his own store
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- What we know so far about the Gaineses’ return to TV on the Magnolia Network
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- Why Chip and Joanna’s (and Fixer Upper’s) exit matters to viewers