Anyone who loves to read has a favorite book store that is part of the memory of their love of books. Since I moved to Austin to attend the University of Texas School of Law, BookPeople has been that place for me. If one could have a love affair with a store, I’ve had one for years with this iconic part of the Austin community. I’ve hung out in the stacks when I should have been studying, bought books by the dozens, and dreamed there about a full-time writing career.
BookPeople was founded in 1970 under the name of Grok Books in a small house near the University of Texas campus. The word “Grok”, means to fully understand something. It was a delightful reference to Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein. Grok was owned and operated by grad students who, at the time, offered mainly political and philosophical texts.
In 1978, Grok was taken over by Philip Sansone, who renamed the store BookPeople, after the small but passionate group of revolutionary word-lovers in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Sansone moved the popular store first to the Brodie Oaks Shopping Center, and then to its current location at 6th and Lamar. It’s nestled next door to two other Austin Classics, Waterloo Records on one side and Whole Foods on the other.
BookPeople is more than a commercial store. It’s iconic. It’s part of the community and the fabric of my Austin life. I think of it as the place where I met people for coffee, struck legal deals, and bought a book before almost every international trip or hiking excursion I’ve taken. It’s the place where I’ve found hundreds of gifts, birthday cards, and Valentines. It’s the place where I’ve wrapped gifts for charities supported by the store during almost every holiday season. It’s the place where I took my son to choose a special gift for a job well done, or to hear a story on Saturday in the second-floor children’s department.
BookPeople has also been a significant part of my writing life from the time of the meeting of the Austin Screenwriter’s Group in the upstairs community room through years of attending the Writers’ League of Texas monthly meetings to signing my first book there in 2016. When I decided to dedicate time to becoming a published author, I took a photo of an empty slot on the shelf at BookPepole where Wolfe would fall alphabetically. I kept that photo on my laptop and looked at it when I was stuck or discouraged in my writing process.
I met Scott Montgomery several years ago when he became the driving force behind MysteryPeople, BookPeople’s Mystery Bookstore-Within-A-Bookstore. He has since fostered MysteryPeople into a highly regarded destination for mystery and crime fiction lovers that hosts numerous events throughout the year where readers can meet their favorite authors, listen to a genre specific panel discussion, get a coveted autograph, and of course, buy books!
As you can see, BookPeople is not just a book store to me and thousands of others. It’s a part of the community that bridges old and new Austin. It’s a gathering place, a meeting place, and an iconic statement of what Austin is, was, and is yet to come.