Light shines through the glass doors, men sit down at the front table in idle conversation, one employee stands behind the register and others organize their sections of the store.
The store is covered wall-to-wall with books, records, movies, CD’s, and posters. The table in front covered with a stack of records for four dollars, a copy of the New York Times, and fliers for Dark Age Tattoo.
People trickle in, some know exactly where to go, others are lost and wander around until they feel comfortable. Friends exchange words while walking around, “I don’t think I’ve actually ever been in here,” “…what?”
Don Foster stands there, in the record section of Recycled Books, scanning and sifting through some records. Foster has been the owner of Recycled for about 20 years, inherited from his ex-wife after their divorce.
Foster has been collecting things his whole life. “It’s one of those things that, who knows what the beginning is,” Foster said.
It started out with collecting baseball cards as a kid, buying packs of them with his friends when he had more money to try and complete sets.
Comic books were one thing that he just started accumulating, one day his aunt handed him a bunch of comics and he read them all in one sitting, which offended her, and she never gave him any after that.
He started buying and collecting 45 inch records in junior high because they were what he could afford.
Foster would go to a cafe that had a jukebox that used to be on Frye St. and buy the records that would get taken out of the jukebox every Monday.
“Then I discovered where he came from so I’d go wait for him at his building and pick up all the new releases he’d just taken out,” Foster recalls.
Foster bought albums as time went on and he had more money and collecting and accumulating just went from there, including buying books.
Don manages and handles the CD’s and records for the most part, every now and again he’ll get help putting things away. To some, he’s known as a “vinyl guru”.
“It’s hard to say how it started, it just does,” he said.
He describes it as a compulsion that people don’t really understand, but that before you know it, it can hook you in different ways. It just takes you.
Foster and his employees try their hardest for quality when it comes to what they sell.
Don and his employees sit around in a circle, behind the register, going through records, books, DVD’s, and tapes that they’ve just bought. Everyone checking for scratches, tears, anything that could hinder the quality of the items.
Something that sets them apart is their dedication to quality, they’re always looking for the very best.
Foster and his employees will drive out to estate sales, garage sales, and book sales, even going as far as Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Austin, TX, in search of books and records, hoping to find the kind of books they’re looking for any particular day.
“It’s pretty hit or miss,” Foster says, “you don’t know what’s gonna be there.”
Recycled Books brings in all types of people, from students who go to University of North Texas and Texas Women’s University, to well-known people such as Larry McMurtry, Texas novelist and screenwriter – most well-known for writing Brokeback Mountain, who was excited to be in the store.
Something that keeps Foster going is the surprise, the suspense. “You never know what’s gonna come in the door,” he said.
The Opera House ended its use in 1913, Recycled lives on the ground floor of the building, the top half of it is used as apartments.
Recycled took over the building in 1990, when a department store named The Boston Store, and later Kibler Office Supply moved out.
Before Recycled took over the building, they were on Oakland St, across from Texas
Women’s University, and started on University Drive in 1983.
The building constantly has leak problems when there’s rain, which have talked with the real estate agent about being fixed but there’s been no sign of results yet.
To ensure that the books don’t get damaged, the employees will cover the shelves with large pieces of clear and blue plastic tarps and put buckets and containers on the ground to prevent further leaking and mold damage.
In some aisles books are taken off the shelves and stacked on a moving dolly to be put out of harms sight. It’s a joint effort in covering the books, it’s not left to just one or two people.
The store does a pretty sound job of staying away from debt, but sometimes it can be close to the bone, always spending money making new purchases on books and CD’s.
Foster doesn’t see the point in going to extreme lengths for books and records because of the money it can waste, staying in a hotel, on gas, and making the purchase.
Foster is alumni of UNT, having got his master’s degree in English. He didn’t really know what he was going to do with the degree once he got it.
He came from a family that grew up during the depression. His parents had to drop out of high school and help out on the farm the family had.
Don doesn’t see himself as a blue-collar worker, nor does he see himself as a white-collar worker, “I’m just a working guy,” he said, “a working stiff.”
Foster has short days and he has long days, it all depends on what happens during the day,
how many people come through the store or if they buy any books or records.
Work doesn’t stop when Foster goes home. He rsearches what the new releases are, what’s on the New York Times Best Seller’s list and New York Times book reviews. He also looks through movie and music magazines for more of what to look for and tries to stay ahead on vinyl releases.
There are 10 other bookstores, stores that sell games, movies, etc. in Denton. That doesn’t count the six bookstores for strictly University use of both UNT and TWU.
Don doesn’t think of his store being in competition with anyone, he’s more in competition with himself – to get better and better.
Recycled was very recently voted best used bookstore in the 2016 Best of Dallas, Dallas Observer awards. Foster said that in his opinion, the store is one of the best in the state and maybe even the United States and that the store compares well against anyone.
A customer shared with him that they went to an American-owned bookstore in France and said that Denton, Texas, has a better bookstore.
The store has accumulated so many books, about 400,000, that Foster has lost control of them and doesn’t know where they’re all at.
Some sections he’s fearful of, they’re not always sure where to place certain genre books. As unsure as they are about placement, they always strive for alphabetical order.
Don is very focused, looking into old books, putting prices in them, making sure he correctly prices them and adds them to a stack he has near the rare books section.
“I’m over 30,” Foster said.
“Or 53 for the third time,” employees joke around as they sort through books and records.
The environment of Recycled Books is full of employees who also have been collecting something in their life.
The first thing employee Dale Jones, 28, collected was Pokémon cards, currently he’s collecting German history books.
It isn’t just the store or the owner that’s obsessed, the employees have an appreciation similar to Don about collecting things and keeping their own sections organized.
“It gives you a lot of experience with marketing,” Jones, said. “Maybe I can sell this, maybe I can’t.”
Don Foster works with his three kids. They weren’t interested in anything he had been collecting when they were growing up, but now they exchange ideas of what to watch and read.
One of his children runs the whole second floor which contains classical literature, contemporary literature, and poetry.
Miles Foster, 27 and the middle child, said that Foster is a very good father and being in an environment where there’s an obsession with collecting things was spectacular. “I wish I’d paid more attention,” Miles said about his childhood.
Miles has the same attitude as his father, he wouldn’t want to be doing anything else and he has a similar passion for collecting movies and books.
“It’s a joy to look at them every day.”
Miles’ obsession differs from his father in an almost microscopic way, he gets attracted to a subject and reads and learns everything he can get his hands on, and moves on to the next thing that interests him.
The sections are both picked and assigned, they take into consideration interests and how long people have been working there.
Employee Cole Dalton, 31, works on a buy of a stack of National Geographic magazines and some wide, thick hardcover books.
Dalton manages the science and nature section in addition with the graphic novels section. Dalton has always been interested in books, collecting them along with rocks and fossils as a child. Later in college he began collecting and reading comic books.
Working at Recycled can be pretty dangerous if you have a book addiction. “My house is full of books,” Dalton said. “In a good week, I’ll only buy a couple of books [from the store].”
Dalton has been working at Recycled for a little over nine years. He started as going to the store as a customer, similar to Foster who started as a customer. When he started working, he took over science and nature and has been managing graphic novels for one year.
Foster is always looking for the next find and is very knowledgeable. Employees can always learn something from him, as if he were a teacher to them.
“Not a day goes by where I don’t ask him, “what is this?” Dalton said.
Don Foster has created an environment where his obsession runs free and people with the same likeness and passion for collecting and learning things.
Foster hopes to never stop working. “I wouldn’t have much human contact [if I stopped] ha ha.” He’s always been interested in those people who go through buying for a handful of years and suddenly stop, “wha- why do they do that, you know?”