At first glance, the nondescript orange bungalow blends into the neat row of homes lining West Eighth Street in Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood.
It’s a bright and breezy Saturday, and the glass front door at number 314 creaks and groans as people wander in without knocking. Paco Vique and Javier Garcia del Moral are stretched out on the porch, sipping from sweating bottles of beer. A musician hauls a guitar up the front steps, pausing to give each man a kiss on each cheek. A woman, arms laden with books, pushes the door open with her foot and hollers goodbye.
Only the small sign out front indicates that this is more than a home.
It is a 1940s wood-frame house that has been gutted and filled with books. The Wild Detectives, a new independent bookstore a block away from the Bishop Arts District, is a bricks-and-mortar community cornerstone for a city that has few shops like it.
Here, coffee, espresso and a little bit of food are served alongside beer and wine. Concerts are performed, films are screened and community events are hosted between shelves holding nearly 1,500 carefully chosen books.
Going against logic
The brainchild of Vique, 37, and Garcia del Moral, 35, civil engineers from Spain, the store was created with inquietude in mind.
“It’s a word we have in Spain, and there is no translation,” Vique said. “It means something like curiosity or inquisitiveness. It explains your habit for something, how you crave culture and belonging to a community. We wanted to create something for Dallas.”
Vique admits that opening a small independent bookstore goes against logic. The two bibliophiles heard plenty of warnings and objections against the plan.
“The first question is always, ‘Why the hell did you open a bookstore?’” Garcia del Moral said, laughing. “The second question is always, ‘Are you really civil engineers?’ People tell us we are crazy, and I guess we were a little when we first started with this.”
Vique and Garcia del Moral became close friends when their company transferred them from Madrid to Dublin, Ireland, for an engineering project. They bonded over a mutual love of film, literature, music and Guinness.
Later, while traveling in Australia, the idea of opening an independent bookstore arose. They saw it as an outlet to express themselves creatively in a way their engineering day jobs did not allow. But Vique was transferred to Austin soon after, and Garcia del Moral stayed in Dublin. The idea was shelved.
In 2012, the two were reunited in Dallas. They tiptoed into the local arts scene by launching an international-film series called Pata Negra at Oak Cliff’s Texas Theatre. Soon after, they came back to the bookstore idea.
“What we had been talking about for years was finding the right place and the right moment,” Vique said. “We wanted to open the shop in a house as opposed to a regular retail strip mall. A house gives you that comfortable feeling. All of a sudden, we had the house, and it was the right moment.”
It took more than a year of construction and a few hiccups in the form of city ordinances and regulations for the tiny bookstore to open. At 5 p.m. on Feb. 28, Vique and Garcia del Moral received their certificate of occupancy and opened the shop to friends and family.
One of the first questions they got from the crowd: Why the name?
“Sometimes, people think it’s a mystery theme,” Vique said, shrugging. “You really cannot lose a sense of humor with a place like this. The shop’s name is actually the title of a book that could change your life.”
That book is “Los Detectives Salvajes” by the late Chilean author Roberto Bolano. It and many other multinational translations line the walls. The selection is not something you would find at Barnes & Noble, Garcia del Moral explains.
“If we were to take our selection and try to find what titles are carried by the big chains, you’ll notice there are very few,” he said. “There is little overlap. As surprising as it may seem, people do actually buy them. Books have been around for centuries, and people, when they find the time, still want to go and read new things.”
The shop sells about 100 books a week. Profit comes from the additional items sold — the food, coffee, beer and wine.
Vique and Garcia del Moral have no plans to quit their day jobs any time soon. The goal is not to make a fortune selling books, they said. It’s to create a community space where people can sip lattes, collaborate and present ideas and projects.
“If they want to buy a book while they are here, even better,” Garcia del Moral said, laughing again. “But it’s really a creative space.”
In a corner booth, Allison Harp, a freelance photographer, is editing engagement photos on her laptop. Her friend, Katie Allen, a nurse, is seated across from her. Half-empty mugs of coffee litter their table.
“I saw this place on Instagram,” Harp said. “Someone I follow posted that they were here. I liked the vibe. It’s like a hipster lair. It’s a chill, creative work environment.”
Ask manager Carlos Guajardo if the Wild Detectives will have its doors open in six months. His answer will be yes.
Guajardo is the guy in charge of day-to-day operations. He orders the pastries and stocks the shelves, plans the author signings and fixes the leaky ceiling. He has seen bookstores fail; he worked at Borders before the business went belly-up. But the Wild Detectives is different, he said: The community aspect will make it thrive.
“The book business has long considered to be a downward-trending industry in general, especially for Dallas,” Guajardo said. “People are craving that experience of being in a bookstore because they are disappearing. We are focused on being a creative space. We don’t want to limit ourselves to things that are just book-related, but the things that people who love books also love, like film, music and beer.”
Nationally, the number of small independent bookstores, like the Wild Detectives, has grown in the last five years, up 19.3 percent, from 1,651 to 1,971, according to the American Booksellers Association. But the current total is still less than half of the 1990s peak of around 4,000.
Will Evans, who recently launched Deep Vellum, a publisher specializing in English translations of foreign-language fiction, said that there is a need in the community for a bricks-and-mortar gathering place.
“The big regional bookstores weren’t true community spaces,” he said. “A bookstore at the end of a strip mall doesn’t necessarily foster community. The Wild Detectives have made a space that people really want to be part of.”
“People say thank you for bringing this to the community, thank you for being here,” Vique said. "I am not even realizing the entire meaning of that until sometime later when I think, ‘Yes, this is good.’ This is what we wanted. This is what we did for the people, for our community.”