Walter Swan Created One Unique Way to Sell Books in Bisbee

BISBEE — Long after his death, the folks in Bisbee still talk about Walter Swan and his One Book Bookstore. Swan became sort of a folk hero in the mid-1970s when he wrote a book entitled “Me ‘n’ Henry,” a compilation of stories about growing up in Arizona when much of it was still relatively uncivilized. But he couldn’t find a publisher, so he paid a Tucson business $650 to print it. Then he couldn’t find a distributor so he rented space in a Main Street building for $100 a month and opened the One Book Bookstore.

He called it that because the only thing for sale in the One Book Bookstore was Swan’s only book. He sold more than 8,000 of them at $19.95 each.

Walter Swan in Bisbee Gazette

Walter Swan was featured in the Bisbee Gazette because of all the national exposure he acquired. Courtesy of Sam Lowe.

The enterprise was so successful that Swan wrote additional books and sold them at the Other Book Store, located right next to the One Book Bookstore. As sales increased, so did the notoriety. Soon Swan was Bisbee’s most famous citizen, appearing in Erma Bombeck’s column and People magazine, and on David Letterman’s late night show and Bill Cosby’s “You Bet Your Life.”

Before he died in 1994, Swan sold  more than 20,000 of his books, but both stores closed shortly after his death.

Comments

  1. I remember the original article – had it in my scrapbook for eons. I always thought (still do) there was a plot for a novel there. I kept the article so that, when I wrote it and submitted it to an editor, and they told me it was unrealistic, I’d be able to send them a copy of the article and say, “No it’s not. See?” ;)

  2. I had the pleasure of meeting Walter in 1990 while visiting Bisbee. Few men like him were around then, or now. Honest open and quite fun to converse with. I have a copy of his book packed away somewhere, and need to pull it out and read it again. Just a man’s observations on youth and growing up. Simple unpretentious and like Walter a joy to be a part of. I didn’t know he has passed but he will be missed.

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