The only place better than an old library is an old bookstore.
And we were so lucky to have such a gem very close to the South Belt, for 30 years, at 6880 Telephone Rd..
Positioned along a sketchy strip near Hobby airport (cheap rent), Colleen Urbanek opened her used book store in June 1971 with an inventory of 5000 books and shelves that she'd purchased for $700, spotted in a business-for-sale classified ad in the newspaper. She was already in her fifties and bored senseless as a housewife.
I was so thrilled to discover this picture of Colleen among her stacks, taken in November, 1974, right about the time she'd managed to sell the "mostly crap" books from her original inventory and was starting to turn a profit. Here, the blurb from the photo notes she has 30,000 titles.
She would go on to amass more than 100,000 books and build one of the best rare Texana book collections in the world.
Her small unassuming ads would in the back of periodicals such as Texas Monthly for decades. This was one of the flashier ones.
She really didn't need the ads. People who knew old books, knew Colleen.
Colleen was a firecracker. She wasn't particularly fond of women or children, so I felt honored that she was so nice to me whenever Dad and I would show up on a Saturday to spend an hour among her stacks.
I would find a favorite place on the dusty floor in the Children's section, pull out a Dana Girls book and get to reading. The Dana Girls were the precursor to "Carolyn Keene"'s Nancy Drew, and I much preferred them. Dad ended up buying me a few over the course of our visits, which I still cherish. They are first editions, printed in 1934.
Two of the three titles were written by, I would come to find out later, Leslie McFarlane, best known for writing the first Hardy Boys books (under the pseudonym Franklin W. Dixon) had written my favorite two: #1 and #2 in the series. I was always a bit of a tomboy, and after the 4th mystery, the books changed somewhat, and I left off after reading #5, which turned out to be written by Mildred Benson, the primary author behind Nancy Drew.
That would explain it. Too much girl, not enough climbing.
I wonder if this personality was what endeared me to Colleen, who felt like a kindred spirit.
If you want a fantastic piece on Colleen, you absolutely must read the Houston Press' "Old and Rare" by Randall Patterson, published back in June 1996 when the store was hitting its 25th year. It is an absolute blast and nothing will give you a taste of Colleen's personality like it.
Five years later, in June 2001, the Houston Chronicle did a piece on her the last week before she retired. Click here for more fun: Tony Freemantle's "Bookstore Owner Calls it Quits."
She lasted in retirement for five years before passing April 9, 2006. Here is her obituary.