Kwame Spearman steps down as Tattered Cover CEO, may run for DPS board

Tattered Cover CEO and onetime Denver mayoral candidate Kwame Spearman is stepping down from the bookstore chain’s top position with his eyes set on a seat on Denver Public Schools’ Board of Education.

Spearman told The Denver Post he’s “strongly considering” entering the race for an at-large seat in November, which would mean a matchup against incumbent board Vice President Auon’tai Anderson, who is running for re-election.

But before that, the former CEO wants to “spend time listening to our neighborhoods about how we can improve Denver Public Schools.”

Spearman will maintain his ownership stake in the company.

“It’s best for Tattered Cover that I separate politics from my role there and this change allows me to do that,” he said in a text message. Spearman’s decision was first reported by 9News on Wednesday.

In a letter to customers, management thanked Spearman for “all his efforts to expand and improve the Tattered Cover.”

Margie Keenan, the company’s chief financial officer, will continue serving as the interim chief executive, a role she took on when Spearman took a leave of absence from the Tattered Cover to pursue his brief mayoral bid. The bookstore is now looking for a new permanent CEO.

“While leadership changes are never easy, we are excited to embrace the opportunities and experiences that this new chapter brings,” the company said.

Spearman and two other Denver natives, David Back and Alan Frosh, purchased the Tattered Cover in December 2020 as part of an investment team.

The owners were frank about the dire financial state of the company, which struggled to compete with mega online retailers such as Amazon. The COVID-19 pandemic dealt the book chain another serious blow.

In his two-plus years at the helm, the CEO opened new stores in Westminster and Colorado Springs and spearheaded the move of its Lower Downtown location to a new one in McGregor Square.

But Spearman’s tenure was also marred by controversy. Soon after assuming the mantle, Spearman, who is Black, declared Tattered Cover to be the nation’s largest Black-owned bookstore — a statement met with swift criticism from Black booksellers. Critics pointed out that Spearman was the only Black person in the mostly white, 13-member investment group.

He later said the statement was his biggest mistake as CEO.

Less than a year into Spearman’s leadership, the book chain also faced a third-party investigation into workplace bullying and ageism allegations, both of which the chief executive fervently denied.

Employees told The Denver last year that morale was flagging at Tattered Cover, a direct indictment of Spearman’s managerial style.

In January, Spearman announced his candidacy for Denver mayor, joining a crowded field of contenders. He dropped out of the race in March, just a few weeks before Election Day, and threw his support behind former Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce head Kelly Brough.

His departure also comes just three months after Joyce Meskis, the bookstore’s longtime pioneering leader, died at the age of 80.

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