Half Price Books opens its first Idaho store in Meridian

Catie Clark//November 18, 2020

Half Price Books opens its first Idaho store in Meridian

Catie Clark//November 18, 2020

Inside Half Price Books in Meridian. Photo courtesy of Half Price Books.
Inside Half Price Books in Meridian. Photo courtesy of Half Price Books

Half Price Books, the nation’s largest family-owned new-and-used bookstore chain, officially opened its first Idaho store at the Meridian Crossroads on Nov. 12. In reality, the 6,800-square foot store actually opened its doors to customers for an unplanned soft opening on Saturday, Nov. 7.

Kathy Doyle Thomas, executive vice president and chief strategy officer for the book chain, said she was pleasantly surprised by what happened over the weekend: “Since we both buy and sell books, we were going to start buying books for the public on Saturday. Then there were all these people coming in to take a look. So we asked ourselves, why don’t we just open the doors? So we had our soft opening.

“You always want to have a soft opening anyway, to make sure your point-of-sales systems are working and all your other systems are working. Well, people kept coming in, and coming in, and coming in … People wanted to find out about us. They just walked in and discovered us. We had a great day from a sales standpoint. We were like: ‘Whoa! They really do like us and Meridian.’”

In some ways, Half Price Books is similar to the former Hastings Entertainment stores, which once had locations throughout Idaho. Both companies were based out of Texas and both bought and sold books, magazines, comics, records, cassettes, videos, CDs, DVDs and collectible items.

In other ways, the firm is different from the bankrupt shareholder-owned Hastings chain, which was founded as the retail arm of a pre-existing wholesaler, changed ownership several times, took on too much debt and attempted a failed shift to comic books, toys and collectables when when video rentals and music sales plummeted in the early 2010s.

Half Price Books has always been focused in its core competency of selling new and used books. It is family-owned and debt-lean. The company is also unique for a vision that extends beyond profit.

Half Price Books in Meridian,
Half Price Books in Meridian. Photo courtesy of Half Price Books

“We started in Dallas 48 years ago,” Thomas explained. “It was started by a couple of hippies who were big readers and they wanted to give affordable reading to everybody. So the company has always had that philosophy. If we can’t sell the book, we will give it away. We have a very robust donation program. If schools and nonprofits need books for their kids or for their programs, they can go to our website and we’ll work with them to get them books. In a way, it’s the mission of the company. 

“We believe in freedom of speech and the First Amendment because we’re a bookstore. But we also believe in recycling because we recycle the printed word. We buy millions of books all over the country and we sell what we can. If we can’t sell it, we give it away … We really try to do the right thing in all of our different communities. And we expect to do the same thing here in the Boise and Meridian area.”

Half Price Books also operates on a different flavor of business model compared with other retail chains. When the Idaho Business Review asked Thomas about opening a new retail location during the middle of the pandemic, she replied with an outline of the company’s approach to growing the business.

“We don’t open a new store unless we can afford to,” she explained. “We don’t have any debt, which is how the first bookstore started 48 years ago. The company never borrowed because we didn’t want the bank telling us what to do. We didn’t want an investor telling us what to do, and if we can’t afford it, we won’t do it. 

“We’ve wanted to open a store in this area for quite some time, so we’re thrilled to finally do so at Meridian Crossroads. When we were looking at opening the store in Meridian, we knew that the store may not make money for a year or two years, but we know we have enough money in the bank to cover that. So we don’t overextend ourselves. I think that’s how basically we survived through the pandemic … At the end of the day, we’re not over-leveraged and that’s just a business philosophy that has served us well for 48 years.”

Half Price Books decided to move into Idaho three years ago. “There were difficulties with negotiating to get into the (Meridian Crossroads) center,” Thomas said. “We had to get waivers from other retailers to get in so it was a very complicated lease negotiation. We’d been waiting over a year and a half to open the store, and then there was a pandemic.”

Half Price Books had already hired its management staff for the new store and relocated personnel when the pandemic arrived. The firm decided to go ahead and open with pandemic precautions in place. “Frankly, when you have to start paying rent, you better open the doors and get a little bit of money flowing … We require masks and other safety measures,” Thomas said. “We don’t want anyone to get COVID-19. I had to ask one man on Saturday to either wear a mask or not enter the store. And we’ve had a wonderful experience with opening in Meridian.”

Thomas said the company likes what it sees in Idaho and will be scouting more locations for stores in the Gem State.

Half Price Books is headquartered in Dallas. It operates 126 retail locations in 19 states. The closest location to the Meridian store is in Seattle. Stores are open seven days a week. The company is dedicated to environmental and literacy efforts. Each year it sponsors a Half Pint Library Book Drive at each of its stores, donating thousands of books to nonprofit organizations and schools. Half Price Books is a founding contributor to Laura Bush’s National Book Festival and a continuing supporter of the National Center for Families Learning and Feed The Children.