Jen’s Books In Douglas Has 40,000 Volumes In Bank Vaults And Is Open ‘Whenever’

Jen Pollock loves books so much she’s collected 40,000 of them and sells them whenever she decides to open her Douglas store in the old Converse County Bank, where she keeps them in three vintage bank vaults.

DK
Dale Killingbeck

January 14, 20246 min read

Jen’s Books owner Jen Pollock holds her favorite book from Wyoming history, a biography of Converse County Sheriff Malcolm Campbell.
Jen’s Books owner Jen Pollock holds her favorite book from Wyoming history, a biography of Converse County Sheriff Malcolm Campbell. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

DOUGLAS — Stop by Jen’s Books at 102 N. 2nd St. and one may find the door open one day and locked the next.

That’s because the store lives up to its slogan: “Random Books, Open Random Hours.”

Douglas native Jen Pollock said she uses the phrase because that’s the reality of her life and business model.

“We have several other businesses, and this (bookstore) is what I ‘get’ to do,” she said. “And it’s getting to the point where now I can do those other businesses from here, so I get to be open more. People have pretty much gotten used to that. I make no promises. I’ll be here, if I can be here.”

Pollock and her husband Ed run five other businesses in town. But the physical used bookstore only began after she started her online book business in 2004 and their garage started overflowing with the used books she’d buy bring home.

“We had this building and had renters in it. They retired and I just decided to turn it into the bookstore because my husband said I had to do something about all the books in the garage,” she said.

And the bookstore isn’t in just any building.

The window signs on Jen’s Books are temporarily missing because she installed new windows. It will soon say: "Jen’s Books, Random Books, And Random Hours."
The window signs on Jen’s Books are temporarily missing because she installed new windows. It will soon say: "Jen’s Books, Random Books, And Random Hours." (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

Vault With Time Lock

It was built for the Converse County Bank in 1918.

There are three vaults, original hex-patterned tile in the entryway with mahogany wainscoting and a marble mop board. Inside one of the vaults that now holds books instead of $20 gold coins or dollar bills there are several original Yale Time Lock inspection certificates. The oldest visible date for an inspection is 1924.

The time lock vault meant that even if the correct number combination on the dial lock outside was used, the vault could only be opened at a certain time — such as 8 a.m.

“This is a really cool old building to have a bookstore in,” Pollock said.

She points to a place where a few of the dropped ceiling tiles are removed and a 14-foot tin ceiling can still be seen above. She plans to restore it.

Pollock said she sells most of her 40,000 used book inventory online. There are books of every classification and value from paperback novels that sell for $2 to rare Western history books that sell for more than $1,000. She has classic kid’s books and many collectible volumes as well. She said the collectibles generally mean they were signed by the author.

There is an OZ book collection by “Wizard of Oz” author Frank Baum that she needs to get into the database, a wall of books for youngsters, science fiction, biography, politics and much more. Her passion sits on the shelves by the front door that contain the history of the West.

‘Malcolm Campbell Sheriff’

“My favorite is Western history, and I have a very strong, very nice selection of Western history,” Pollock said. “Wyoming books, the old ones … there were so few printed that they are pretty hard to come by.

“One of my favorite books of the history of our area here is called ‘Malcolm Campbell Sheriff.’ It was written in 1932, I don’t know how many were printed, but now that book is about $300. It’s one of my favorite reads. I read it every few years.”

The book covers the life of Wyoming’s noted Malcolm Campbell, who as a deputy sheriff in Albany County arrested Alfred Packer in 1883, a former Colorado prospector, guide and confessed cannibal who had been charged with murdering those he ate. He had escaped jail years earlier. Campbell became the sheriff of Converse County in 1888 and later served as Douglas’ town marshal.

Other books of regional history include “Wyoming Flames of 92,” which contains the official communication sent during the Johnson County War; “The Rustler Business,” a book written by Charles Penrose, the surgeon who accompanied the cattlemen who invaded Johnson County; “John Hunton’s Diary 1873-75,” a Wyoming pioneer; and many more.

“I have always been in love with books,” she said. “It’s not just the stories inside of them, it’s the inscriptions in old books that people put in there, (such as) ‘Merry Christmas’ in 1903. I don’t like to limit what my reading is, so I don’t limit what I have in the bookstore.”

Pollock said even though the store is “randomly open,” it is not randomly on her mind. When she takes trips with her husband, they often stop at other bookstores, thrift shops and places where interesting books may be found.

  • Some of the rooms in the bookstore are former bank vaults because the store is located in the old Converse County Bank.
    Some of the rooms in the bookstore are former bank vaults because the store is located in the old Converse County Bank. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Jen’s Books specializes in collecting older books on the history of Wyoming and the West.
    Jen’s Books specializes in collecting older books on the history of Wyoming and the West. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Jen’s Books offers a collection of Wyoming pioneer John Hunton’s diaries. Hunton once roomed with Jim Bridger.
    Jen’s Books offers a collection of Wyoming pioneer John Hunton’s diaries. Hunton once roomed with Jim Bridger. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)
  • Historic inspection stamps are inside one of the vaults that once held money for Converse County Bank and now have books.
    Historic inspection stamps are inside one of the vaults that once held money for Converse County Bank and now have books. (Dale Killingbeck, Cowboy State Daily)

Online Sales

Online sales at jensbooks.com represent nearly two-thirds of her business.

Once a newly acquired book is processed, she enters it in a database for Amazon, Biblio and AbeBooks. For collectible books, Pollock spends time researching their value, which generally goes back to condition and whether it’s a first edition printing.

“I compare online, we research and make sure its condition is correct, you can buy a cheaper book, but it may be falling apart,” she said. “We are very specific when we describe its condition.”

During the winter, there are not a lot of customers who show up during her random hours. Those who do are welcome to bring their dogs if they’re well behaved, or their own coffee to sit in a chair and investigate a title and its pages.

Since she “gets” to do the bookstore, there are no plans to give it up. Pollock shares that she’s learned some things from the customers who have come through the doors over the years seeking to satisfy their curiosity, imagination or hunger for history.

“It’s so funny, you never can guess what people will read when they walk through the door. I think I probably was a little bit assuming,” she said. “I now have very gray ladies that read science fiction and I’ve got kids coming in with piercings and tattoos and they are looking for classics. So as much as you don’t judge a book by its cover, you don’t judge a person either.”

Dale Killingbeck can be reached at dale@cowboystatedaily.com.

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