Truth is stranger than fiction to Tom Peters. Or so it seems when you talk to the owner of Boulder’s venerable Beat Book Shop. Peters, who is also a published poet and lifelong fan of punk and alternative rock, has been selling books and records from his Pearl Street shop for more than three decades; and along the way he collected a few stories.
There was a time when Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry visited the store and asked Peters if he could get him a first edition Jack Kerouac. On the road. Peters says he asked Perry to put him on a guest list so he could deliver the book directly to the rocker at his concert at Fiddler’s Green; but when Peters called the venue to confirm it was on the list, he wasn’t there — so Perry never received the novel, which Peters says is worth around $8,500.
“Steve grew up in Boston and he said he wanted the book,” says Peters. “But I can’t carry a valuable book to a hot gig unless I know I’ll definitely be able to hand it to the buyer.”
The list of famous writers and musicians who have visited the Beat Book Shop is impressive. Over the store’s many years of existence, culture literati such as Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Gary Snyder, Diane di Prima, Lucia Berlin and Anne Waldman have all traveled to various locations to browse its shelves. Musicians are also drawn to the store. Peters unfolds a list of visitors including Scottish troubadour Donovan, Robyn Hitchcock, Abra Moore, Lady Miss Kier (of Deee-Lite), Patti Smith, Glen Hansard and members of Yo La Tengo.
“The shop allows me to meet lots of interesting people,” shares Peters. “[Glen Hansard] has been buying me books for a long time. Him and his [then] girlfriend [Markéta Irglová of the band The Swell Season] arrested when they were in town. They were in the movie Once. Glen was also in Scottish band Texas. It was a great group. A lot of artists who were big in the 90s came. Abra Moore who was in the movie Lazy [and also a member of Poi Dog Pondering before launching her solo musical career] came inside. She also participated in my series of poems. The singer [Lady Miss Kier] and the Deee-Lite DJ stopped by and bought a bunch of poetry books and records. The poet Ai [Ogawa] also visited.
Peters says he has around 25,000 used books in his shop in addition to vinyl records. A Michigan native and the son of a teacher and journalist, he opened the Beat Book Shop in 1990, shortly after graduating from Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics. The store, which has had three locations on Pearl Street since it first opened, is currently located (downstairs) at 1200 Pearl St., #10. Peters cites his interest in reading as part of his drive to sell books.
“I used to go to the library a lot when I was a kid. I always loved books,” Peters says. “As I got older, I read even more. For the three years before I started Naropa, I read an entire book every 24 hours. I have read a thousand books in three years. I started one and finished it every day. There may have been a few times when the books took me a few days to finish, but I love to read.
In addition to reading, Peters is passionate about music, which is reflected in the music he plays in his shop and the records he sells there. In his years living and working in Los Angeles, before moving to Boulder, he says he attended many live musical performances on the coast.
“I saw live music in LA every day and vigorously collected records while I was there. I would stop at a store and buy a book and a record every night,” says- he.
Peters’ obsession with collecting music and books dates back to his youth.
“I started buying cassettes when I was a teenager. I had hundreds of tapes that I carried in my car every day in a wooden box that I had made. It served as an armrest. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what makes books valuable. Not just which book to read, but how much they are worth and what about them contributes to their price. I keep information about all this. I’ve been doing it for 35 years. The longer you do it, the more you learn about your craft.
Covering the cost of a lease on Pearl Street doesn’t allow for much downtime and forces Peters to stay focused on his job, which he says he still loves.
“I work harder now than I ever have before. We mostly keep the lights on selling books from the store. I think about 90% of my business is here. Online sales can cover the fresh from the shop for about two months in a good year. I have to work seven days a week to do this, but I have the same job as 33 years ago, which is great. I mean that I worked continuously for 33 years at the same job on Pearl St. I don’t know how many people can say that.
Peters says January and February are his slowest months for sales. He also notes that he owns a few books autographed by Jack Kerouac (although this is not a signed copy of the first edition of On the road, which with an original dust jacket, he estimates it would be worth around $25,000).