Walking through the open door of the beat book shop -- yes, all lowercase, and, yes, always open -- two things are immediately brought to your attention.

First, from floor to ceiling stand walls of books; some leather-bound, others wrapped in bright paper, all used and awaiting new readers.

The second, as inseparable from the shop as its used books and records, is owner Tom Peters, who bears a striking resemblance to actor/comedian Billy Connolly. There's a pleasant originality that wafts through the air, mixing with the aroma of well-kept, old books and the sound of good music.

For Peters, the decision to open a used book shop 23 years ago was obvious. Freshly graduated from the Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics at Naropa University and having worked since he was11, Peters felt strongly that he didn't want to ask anyone for a job anymore.

"It wasn't that I didn't want to look for a job, or think about a job or have a job," Peters said. "I thought that if I go into a place I really like and say, 'Can I have a job working here?' and they say 'no,' then every time I go in that place I'll think about how they turned me down for a job."

Having worked at the now-closed Stage House II on Pearl Street for two years, Peters had amassed nearly 2,000 books in addition to his already large collection.

"When I was in L.A., I was buying two, three books a day and reading one book a day. So my collection was growing faster than I could read the books. So I thought, 'What if I open a book store?"

Peters' father loaned him one month's rent to open the initial store on 17th and Pearl streets. The establishment opened March 1, 1990, just next door to where the beat book shop currently resides. Each month during that first year, Peters said he constantly was afraid of losing the shop and made just enough to continue doing business for another month.

'A treasure on the Front Range'

Now he's peddling books at 1717 Pearl St. and across the world.

Percy Brockens, left, and Daniel Sorrentino look over books at the beat book shop last week.
Percy Brockens, left, and Daniel Sorrentino look over books at the beat book shop last week. ( CLIFF GRASSMICK )

"We have been selling books online since there was an online, but we have been selling on multiple websites officially since 2003," Peters said.

Beat book shop started selling books through AbeBooks, an online retailer, in 2004. Peters said that he originally picked the Canadian firm because it was an independent company. AbeBooks was bought by Amazon in 2008.

"The way Tom has cultivated his collection and personally invested his energy, time and devotion has made the beat book shop a treasure on the Front Range," said Brian Buckley, one of the owners of Boulder's Innisfree Poetry Bookstore & Cafe. "Its persistence in the face of adversity attests.

"Keep in mind, the beat book shop is Tom and Tom is the beat book shop -- they are inseparable."

Peters attributes the successes of the beat book shop to his ethos of simplicity, something he learned as a child reading Henry Thoreau.

"Our rent is higher and our business is lower," Peters said.

But that hasn't caused Peters much concern. He said that as both the owner and sole employee of the beat book shop, costs are rather uncomplicated and as long as he can keep a roof over his head and food in his belly, the store will stay open.

Picking up on energy

When perusing a bookshop, you'll often see employees straightening books. Peters said that the reason he aligns the spines has less to do with aesthetics and more to do with people picking out the books.

"If you were looking at a book and were like, 'Jeez, I wish I had $10," and you were holding it for a long time and carrying it around and put it back, my boss would say, 'Watch this,' and we would go back to work.

"The next person that came in would walk over and pick up the same book and put it back," Peters said. "And I saw it happen every week."

According to Peters, people subconsciously pick up on the energy left on handled books and naturally gravitate toward them.

"It all sounds completely like new-age (expletive), but it was all based on science -- just science that's hard to prove," Peters said.

Every Monday night, Peters hosts "So, You're a Poet," a weekly open poetry reading at The Laughing Goat Coffeehouse, located next door at 1709 Pearl St.

"The last time I heard Tom read his poetry, I was reminded of its language prowess and tension. Words clung to each other desperately and suddenly on the next line they danced," Buckley said.