On National Independent Bookstore Day, Here are Lubbock’s local shops, stories behind them
There’s a special feeling when roaming rows of books and touching stories that were months or years in the making. That feeling is even stronger in independent bookstores that are ingrained in their communities.
Saturday, April 29, is National Independent Bookstore Day, an event placing a spotlight on independent stores across the nation. Though each store has a different background and specialty, they all share a passion – storytelling.
As a preview to this holiday, here’s a look into four of Lubbock’s independently-owned bookstores, and the stories behind them.
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2nd Chance Books: ‘It’s a dream come true’, with shop cats and pre-owned books
Their story: Daniel Mull opened 2nd Chance Books in December 2021 with a focus on pre-owned books. He had donation bins placed around Lubbock so people could share their old books to new readers. In August 2021, Mull decided to sell the store to Keli Leatherwood, an employee at the time.
“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Leatherwood said. “I love books. I love to read. I love cats. How could I not want to buy it?”
Since taking over, Leatherwood has boosted their social media presence and added book clubs – her favorite being a horror-themed club. She also believes the store’s atmosphere helps it stand out.
“We have a lot of people that come in and they may not buy anything, but they just come in and talk,” Leatherwood said. “Some people will bring their own books and sit and read here for hours. It’s homey here.”
People can donate at one of the eight donation bins, or bring them into the store to receive a 20% off voucher. Teachers also get 10% off.
Specialty: Donated books, but they can order new books upon request. Their shop cats, Wilbur and Charlotte, also add to the uniqueness of the store.
“I adopted (Wilbur and Charlotte) from the SPCA in November,” Leatherwood said. “They’re just living the cat dream, doing whatever they want. Sometimes they do their job and greet people, other times, they’re taking a nap or doing cat things.”
Leatherwood’s recommendations and her view on the importance of reading: “Little House on the Prairie books were my favorite when I was little,” Leatherwood said. “My top books for (this decade) are ‘The Devil’s Highway,’ ‘The Worst Hard Time’ and ‘The Glass Castle.'”
As for why reading is important to Leatherwood, she mentioned that reading can open doors to all sorts of knowledge.
“I’ve always told my kids that if you’re a good reader, you can learn anything. There’s nothing that you can’t teach yourself if you can find a book or article about it. You’re always learning if you’re reading, no matter what you read.”
Additional offerings: The store hosts four book clubs and other events throughout the month, and it has a tea and coffee bar. Leatherwood’s friend, Tasha Espenschied of Craftin’ Me Crazie, has resin and paper bookmarks for sale near the counter.
Monster’s Lair Comics: Collector’s passion turned into store specializing in older comics
Their story: Rob Durband’s love of comics started when his older brother started collecting comics. Durband began his collection at age 11, and 37 years later, he turned his passion into a business.
“I started picking up comics a little bit from (my brother), and decided I wanted to start my own, but we didn’t want to collect the same characters,” Durband said. “We had to divide and conquer on that. He was a Spider-Man collector, and I started with Daredevil. Then we started to broaden our horizons into older monster and horror comics. That’s where Monster’s Lair comes from.”
Durband grew up around Chicago, eventually working in nearby comic shops in high school. One thing he noticed was that some shops didn’t sell older comic books.
“I really focus on old books, as that’s what I grew up with,” he said. “During high school, I worked at a comic store where we were always buying and selling old books. I saw a need for that, as there’s a lot of comic shops that don’t carry older comics, because it is difficult to have that in stock.”
The store started as a booth at comic conventions, which they still participate in across the nation, before it became a storefront on Nov. 1, 2015.
“When we opened up the store, I wanted to be strictly comics,” Durband said. “Then we started selling a few (Funko) Pops, and they’ve just sold like crazy. It’s just being able to have your fingers on the pulse of what your customers want, and how to make your customers happy.”
Specialty: Monster’s Lair specializes in older comics, and new comics are available as well.
Durband formed connections with comic book collectors and dealers to stock up on the older stories he currently sells. Monster’s Lair also buys comics and collections.
“We have 20-year-olds that are getting into comics and they’re buying comics 40 and 50 years old,” Durband said. “It’s kind of neat that they’re going after those old books and want that piece of history. And just seeing that piece of history up close, that’s the reason I come to work every day. It’s fun.”
As a bonus for comic fans, May 6 is Free Comic Book day, and this store will participate.
Durband’s recommendation and his view on the importance of reading: His favorites include Daredevil, The Walking Dead, and Star Wars – particularly ones to do with bounty hunters.
“Unfortunately for kids, there’s a lot of things vying for their attention, whether it be social media, video games, movies, TV, and unfortunately, reading isn’t one of the things high up on kids’ lists,” Durband said. “Getting kids interested in reading, where it’s not a book and they can follow along with pictures, is great. Younger kids can follow along too, and they’ll want to find out what’s going on, so it gives them a reason to want to read, so they can get the whole story.”
Additional offerings: Monster’s Lair hosts signings and celebrity appearances, including Ray Park (Darth Maul in Phantom Menace). They also buy comics and Funko Pops.
Star Comics: Lubbock’s original comic book store since 1977 is a family business
Their story: Star Comics began in 1975 as Star Bookstore, which offered pre-owned books. At that time, comics could usually be found only at newsstands.
Joe Gulick, former education reporter for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, was a fan of Star Bookstore and comic books. On a trip to Denver around 1977, Gulick discovered Mile High Comics, one of the biggest and oldest comic stores still running today. When he returned to Lubbock, he went to Star and asked “if I pay for the comics, will you bring them in?”
Robert Mora’s uncle responded with “sure, why not?”
And so began Star Comics, Lubbock’s oldest comic store. Mora started working at the store in 1988 and eventually inherited it from his uncle, who was like a second father to him.
“When I was a teenager, he let me come in and work for him in the summers and a little bit after school,” Mora said. “It’s what I’ve always done, and is something I’ve always wanted to do.”
Having grown up in the industry, Mora has seen the rise of comics to TV and big-screen adaptations. Fans of the Marvel Comics Universe or Walking Dead series often come into comic stores searching for more of their favorite stories, or to learn more about characters.
“Maybe they experienced it there first, but they can come and read the books, the graphic novels, themselves and get a different experience,” Mora said. “Robert Kirkman with The Walking Dead had a lot of different stories in the books than he did in the television show. Those fans came in for more, and that was one of those moments where you saw people become comic book people.”
Specialty: Their specialty includes comics and graphic novels across different genres.
As a bonus for comic fans, May 6 is Free Comic Book day. At Star Comics, it is a month-long celebration, with new freebies released each Wednesday and Saturday.
Mora’s recommendation and his view on the importance of reading: Mora’s recommendations include Spider-Man and Star Wars, two franchises he started reading when he was a child. Lately, he’s been reading more indie and slice-of-life comics.
“(Comics) taught me how to read,” Mora said. “That was how I was able to watch my favorite movie (Star Wars) over and over again without having to go to the theater. It also allows a lot of people who may struggle with enjoying the printed word, and encourages them to dive into reading.”
Additional offerings: The store still sells some pre-owned books, and offers a mix of collectibles. People are welcome to reach out about having signings, launch parties or events.
Wild Lark Books: Passion for publishing and authors brings unique mix of store, venue, publisher’s business
Their story: Brianne van Reene did not remember the exact moment she became a reader, but she knew reading, and eventually becoming a published author, were in her future from a young age.
“Books have been such an intricate part of who I am,” van Reene said. “They have just been a great companion for me. So that naturally went into writing, and I wanted to get published.”
As she tried to get published, she considered a better way to put more power into the hands of authors. A way that would allow them to maintain the artistic design and integrity of their work, but still offer the resources of a traditional publisher.
“I wanted to try to blend the worlds a bit and make another path that was more beneficial for the author as an artist,” she said. “I thought about this concept of the publishing side, then I wanted to create a home for my authors, and a place for storytelling in all mediums.”
That passion created Lubbock’s newest bookstore, which opened its doors in December 2021. The shop features a spacious reading area, shelves of books, a tea and coffee bar, and art from local artists. Wild Lark Books aims to create a special place for everyone.
“The moment you walk through the door of an independent bookstore, everybody in this place has some sort of commonality in the love of storytelling,” van Reene said. “I think that that is so needed. And there’s something sacred and special about that. Books and independent bookstores are a place of refuge.”
Specialty: The shop sells new books, and can order books upon request. Wild Lark exclusively sells new books, because authors only make money from that sale.
“In our effort to support authors, they only get paid through the sale of a new book,” van Reene said. “That’s part of our leaning into that mission. You’re not just buying a book, you are buying a bit of someone’s soul, a piece of who they are. “
The publishing side accepts authors of all genres from any region, though most do live in Lubbock or have a local connection.
“It’s about passion to me,” van Reene said. “You could have 500 authors write the same story, but because of the singular experience of that author and their voice, that store will be unique to them. It’s about the author, and the story they want to tell.”
Potential authors can reach out to Wild Lark for more information on how to get published with the business.
Van Reene’s recommendations and her view on the importance of reading: Her favorite books growing up included The Pony Pals and multiple series from Tamora Pierce.
Other works she enjoys include The “Shadow of the Wind” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón, “Outlander” by Diana Gabaldon, and “Alchemy: The Dark Art and Curious Science of Creating Magic in Brands, Business, and Life” by Rory Sutherland.
“I think that books hit us in moments when we need them the most,” van Reene said. “I found such comfort in the way a character handled the situation, and the strength that they found on the other end was just inspiring. It hit in a new way, right in the moment I needed it.”
Additional offerings: Wild Lark has a non-profit that helps their authors and hopes to fund and host workshops for the Young Writers Project. Gatherings, book signings, and events can also be hosted at the store.