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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Half-Price Books



Sharon Anderson Wright, right, with her sister, Executive Vice President Ellen O'Neal

(Original article and photo are from the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram)



I first discovered Half-Price Books while on a business trip to Dallas for which, luckily for me, I had driven rather than flown. Otherwise, I would have had to buy an extra suitcase to carry home all the books I bought that week. Over the years, the chain has expanded and Houston has been blessed with several locations, one of which is only five miles from my home and sees me at its cash register at least once a week.
There are reminders of Pat Anderson all around the headquarters of Half Price Books, the used-book chain she co-founded in 1972.

Her desk, displayed in an open area of the corporate office in Dallas, is still covered with her old photographs, hand-kept ledgers, old paperbacks and the small box holding the pencils she would sharpen down to the nub to save money on supplies.

Her aversion to debt remains a guiding principle for the company, which has kept borrowing to a minimum even as it has expanded to nearly 100 locations in 14 states. The offering of full health benefits for all full-time workers also is a nod to Anderson, who looked after her employees like family and came to the aid of more than a few of them in times of need.

Then there are her daughters Sharon Anderson Wright and Ellen O'Neal, perhaps the biggest reminders of their mother, and the keepers of her legacy since Anderson's death from lung cancer in 1996.
...
There have been changes, of course, since Anderson's death.

The growth of the company, which typically opens three to seven stores each year and also has a thriving wholesale business, forced management to become more organized and a bit more computer-savvy after years of resisting technology.

The expansion also made it too costly to maintain full health benefits for part-time workers, a decision that Wright said she made "not lightly." But she suspects that her mother would be proud of what Half Price Books has become, and perhaps a bit surprised by it.

"I think we've grown more than she could have imagined," said Wright, who has nearly doubled the number of stores in the chain since her mother's death. "But we haven't varied from the basic concept. We've gotten more bureaucratic, but we've never done something we couldn't afford, and we've never taken on a lot of debt, so we're not beholden to anybody but ourselves."
I would guess that at least 25% of the hundreds of books that I own were found at one or another of the Half-Price Books stores in Dallas, Austin or Houston. And I continue to find great bargains and surprises at the stores. Just yesterday, in fact, I added three Library of America volumes to my collection of that series. All were brand new, never read copies listing for $35 each and I purchased them for $9.98 a piece.

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