The Last Word Bookstore
615 S. Jennings Ave.
Fort Worth 76110
Paul Combs welcomes the competition. In fact, a sign inside his Near Southside bookstore directs customers to other bookstores.
“What we do is unique,” said Combs, whose Last Word Bookstore at 615 S. Jennings Ave. in Fort Worth has built a loyal following since opening in late May.
In a 2,700-square-foot former beauty salon, the Arlington native caters to an eclectic crowd. Some come for foreign works of fiction translated into English, while others flip through biography and history spines lining the shelves.
But whatever the genre, shoppers trust Combs and his literary taste. Nowhere can Danielle Steel or James Patterson be found.
“I have stuff you’re not going to find someplace else, none of the stuff you’ll find at Costco,” said Combs, who took a chance when opening the bookstore.
After learning that his job at an area oncology management firm would be outsourced to India, Combs made a decision. Rather than seeking similar work elsewhere, he decided to pursue a lifelong dream and open a bookstore.
Aside from spending countless hours in such establishments while growing up in Arlington, Combs had no retail experience. So he started a GoFundMe campaign in 2015 to fund startup costs, leased a store location and hired Ingram Content Group for inventory distribution.
“For a new store, they give you this percentage fiction, this percentage non-fiction, cooking, etc. But I started out with what I liked.”
Those instincts proved prescient, or at least influential, as his first customers seemed to trust his taste and buy books rarely stocked in other local shops.
“I’m heavily into works in translation, so I sell a lot of stuff like Russian writers. It’s good writing.”
And South Jennings is a good location, said Combs, who is enamored of the Near Southside and its eclectic restaurant and retail shops and neighborhood feel. Hopes of leasing space along Magnolia Avenue fizzled when no space became available, so he widened the search.
With apartments and lofts sprouting up nearby, not to mention Main Street renovations underway, Combs realized the area’s growing popularity and development and secured a five-year lease for his store.
“I’m very happy with my lease,” he said.
Combs is equally satisfied with a growing clientele since the modest storefront welcomed its first customers. From Watauga and North Richland Hills to Sachse and Plano, customers come from near and far, though most live nearby.
They come for everyday browsing or poetry nights, book club meetings and book releases. The most recent event saw pirates drop anchor for International Talk Like A Pirate Day, which encourages folks to don pirate garb and pepper conversations with “arr,” “ye” and similar terms. At Combs’ bookstore, the Sept. 19 gathering encouraged patrons to dress in pirate garb for free Krispy Kreme doughnuts and a poetry night.
Mixing fun and fiction seems to be working. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, retail bookstore sales rose by 5 percent in June 2016 compared with June 2015, the most recent figures available. Bookstore sales totaled about $770 million in June compared with $733 million in the same month last year.
Combs also is an author. His two-book series, The Last Word and The Last Word: Writer in Residence, chronicles the adventures of two cousins who inherit a bookstore from their uncle and try to succeed in the book industry.
Combs clearly understands both sides of the page and wants to reach as many fellow literature lovers as possible.
“I’ve bombarded Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, you name it. We’re trying to get the word out, and it seems to be working.”