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Al Key - DRC

Book repository: Denton’s famed purveyor of words and music turns 30

Profile image for By Karina Ramírez / Staff Writer
By Karina Ramírez / Staff Writer
Recycled Books Records CDs owner Don Foster, left, and store manager Chris Garver stand in one of the many aisles of bookshelves on the downtown Square.Al Key - DRC
Recycled Books Records CDs owner Don Foster, left, and store manager Chris Garver stand in one of the many aisles of bookshelves on the downtown Square.
Al Key - DRC
Siblings Jessica and Garrett Overmyer are regular customers in the CD aisles at Recycled Books.Al Key - DRC
Siblings Jessica and Garrett Overmyer are regular customers in the CD aisles at Recycled Books.
Al Key - DRC

He may not remember exactly what it was, but it was pretty exciting for Don Foster when he first bought a compact disc for Recycled Books.

“It was a classical thing, maybe Vivaldi or something. Maybe it was a rock thing, similar to Los Lobos,” said Foster, owner of the bookstore. “I had no idea what to pay for it, so I just made something up.”

It was early on in his career of selling secondhand books and music.

Now celebrating its 30th year, Recycled Books Records CDs has come a long way, Foster said.

His then-wife, Lucy Lovely, started the business in 1983 with a collection of books and records.

“It was very, very small,” Foster said. “It was sort of a hole in a wall, off University Drive next to what was Western Bank at the time.”

The business moved around in the early days as each location filled up with books.

Recycled’s current location on the Square dwarfs that first location.

“It would fit this size right here,” Foster said, pointing to three rows of bookshelves in the shop on the Square. “That was the store, believe it or not. It was a room and a front area.”

Recycled moved to a spot just off the campus of Texas Woman’s University, on Oakland Street. At one time in Denton, that was a happening place, Foster said.

“There was malt shop there, where all the teenagers went, but it went away,” he said.

Foster described the TWU location, where the business was located for much of the 1980s, as a kind of maze. People loved that each section had its own room, he said.

“The photographer next door moved or went out of business, and we were able to punch a hole in a wall and move into there,” Foster said. “When we did that, it was like magic. We tried to get that going. I have lived in Denton all my life and did not realize there were so many great books around.”

By 1990, Recycled moved into what is known colloquially as the “purple building,” the iconic Wright Opera House, a century-old building on the downtown Square. There, Recycled Books Records CDs covers 17,000 square feet across three floors.

“It was a good thing we moved right here, because almost immediately we bought out two stores — science fiction and horror stores — in Fort Worth. They had other things too; we bought a great deal of their stuff,” Foster said.

When Recycled Books moved in, the building wasn’t yet its present shade of lavender.

“It was a standard building. One set of owners painted it purple. We thought it was ridiculous. But since then, we realized, it is so simple,” Foster said, laughing. “When people call from Dallas and we give them directions, we just say, ‘It is the big purple building — you can’t miss it.’”

Foster said he has about half a million books, for sure. And 12,000 to 15,000 vinyl records and about 20,000 CDs. He’s not sure about how many DVDs he has in his inventory.

Most of the stuff people buy are everyday items, Foster said. American author James Patterson, known for his novels about psychologist Alex Cross, is one popular seller.

“Our clientele is such that when we get a really good philosophy selection in, as we did one time, they sell like James Patterson,” Foster said. “We have made some huge poetry buys, and they sell as well.”

People travel far, even from across the country, to sell their stuff to Recycled Books, just because they care passionately about the items, he said.

“That makes the difference,” he said.

One thing does make his store unique, Foster said.

“We do not buy things scratched,” he said. “Our customers are very discerning. They want to make sure that albums are in good condition.”

Fewer than 20 employees work at the store, some of whom have been with Recycled for a while. Foster calls them “smart people.”

“Some were really young when they started and did not have much experience, but they caught up really well,” he said. “A lot of people think they want to work here because they think all you do is sit around and read books and stuff. But no way.

“I get home exhausted every night because there is a steady influx of books. You have to look at them, you have to buy them, you have to put them on the shelves. It never stops.”

In October, manager Chris Garver will mark six years working at Recycled Books. He said he started working at bookstores when he was young.

He also manages social media for the business. Recycled’s Facebook page went up in 2008 and now boasts more than 25,000 “likes.”

“When we buy 2,000 CDs, we will make a big post about it,” Garver said. “We also use it to bring in new business.”

Garver said there’s nothing like working for Foster because he knows his stuff.

“You can’t stump the guy, whether it is old music, brand-new Japanese noise,” he said. “He knows more about current bands than I do.”

Not just music but books, too.

“He is a real collector,” Garver said. “He knows what he is looking for.”

KARINA RAMÍREZ can be reached at 940-566-6878 and via Twitter at @KarinaFRamirez.