The Birth of Half Price Books

In 1972, we opened our first store in a converted laundromat in Dallas, Texas. Co-founders Ken Gjemre and Pat Anderson stocked the store with more than 2,000 books from their personal libraries.

In 1999, Ken wrote, “The thing I am most proud of is Half Price Books. It was way more than a business — it embodied everything one could ask for in an enterprise. It had the benefit of continuity; we did it every day. Every day we made a whole bunch of people happy; we did good work every single day. In many ways it was a ‘waste not’ kind of operation, much as my father had always personified.”

   

“Both Pat and I were bibliophiles,” Ken wrote. “I had a personal library of 5,000 books and Pat read a book a day or more. The thought of having a bookstore excited us both.” 

 

 

“People started buying up the books as fast as I could get them on the shelves,” Ken wrote. “Half Price Books opened on a Thursday with $140 in the bank, and by the end of that weekend, we had done enough business to pay our employees. By August, we had already begun planning our second location as our first was already too small.”  

Now that we’ve heard from Ken, let’s hear from Pat, in her own words:   

 Here’s to 40 more. Happy birthday, HPB 🙂 

— Kristen D. 

Meet the Bibliomaniac: Sharon Anderson Wright

For this month’s “Meet the Bibliomaniac” feature, we thought there would be no better way to celebrate Half Price Books’ 40th birthday than to talk with the head bibliomaniac – Sharon Anderson Wright!

Name: Sharon Anderson Wright

Job Title: President and CEO

When did you join the HPB team? I joined in 1972 to help prepare for the opening of our first store on Lovers Lane. 

Tell us about your family’s involvement in the company.  When my mom (Pat Anderson) and Ken Gjemre were opening the first store, my sisters Ellen (17), Mary (15) and I (13) all helped build it. The store was so small and my sisters and I were in school, so we just worked when we could. Pat and Ken devoted all their time to the store. They loved the place. Pat spent most of her time in the store while Ken sought out crazy merchandise from all over the world and drummed up publicity.

Ellen graduated from high school and moved to Austin to go to college at the University of Texas. Then Mary graduated and followed her there the next year. Ken’s son had opened the store on Lavaca where Mary and Ellen worked while they were in school.

Ellen married her coworker, Tom O’Neal, and they moved to San Antonio and opened store 10. Just like us, their kids, Brady and Emily, grew up in the stores with both parents working there. Brady and Emily continue to become more involved in the operation of the company.

Mary escaped to Colorado and is not involved in the operations of the company.

What jobs have you held while working at HPB?  We all did everything. We built Half Price Books ourselves from the ground up. At the first store I made mobiles for the category signs. I sorted paperbacks, painted walls, built shelves, set up sections, took out the trash and fixed the toilets and phones. We made flyers and put them on cars around the neighborhood. I bought and priced everything printed or recorded. I focused on the Nostalgia/Collectable items then attended trade shows and ordered new merchandise from publishers.

When I first started, I continued to work any time I could get a ride to the store. When I graduated from high school, we found a location in Richardson. We spent a month getting it together and opened in July with me as the manager. My dog, Dylan, and I were the only employees from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., five days a week. On my days off, they sent someone from another store.

Dylan guarded the counter and growled at people if they came behind it while I was out shelving books. I managed there for two or three years before I went part time to take classes at the local college. During that time, I worked at our store on McKinney Ave. They fired Dylan because growling at customers wasn’t as useful in a larger store!

I was the assistant manager when we moved our Flagship store to its fourth location on Mockingbird Lane. I became the store manager when we moved it to Northwest Highway. While managing that store, I became the district manager over the other Dallas stores. Eventually I gave up the manager’s job to be the general manager of all the stores – I think I still have that job. When my mom died I was given the job of President and CEO.

What has been your favorite part about working here for 40 years? I love our inventoryI like the people I work with and the fact that we can continue to run the company the way we choose. I am proud of what we do – promoting literacy, helping the environment and donating books to people that need them.

What is your all-time favorite book? I don’t have one. It changes depending on where I am in my life at the time.

Anything else to add? Keep reading books, they are good for you.

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Thanks, Sharon!

Did any of you shop in the original location on Lovers Lane?  Share your favorite HPB memories in the comments!

— Emily