ware store, an appliance store, two department stores, three sit-down restaurants, two grocery stores, seven fullservice gas stations, a full-time doctor and hospital, a lumber yard, and a fullservice dry cleaners, according to Archer County Judge Gary Beesinger. Almost all are gone. One of the two remaining sit-down restaurants is a Dairy Queen, and there are three sets of gas pumps, but no full service. Jobs in town open up only when someone retires or dies, one resident says, so many folks commute to Wichita Falls for work. McMurtry still owns four rare and used bookstores, all in what’s left of downtown, but that presence does not make everyone happy. Over the years some peoplelike Beesinger and businessman Abby Abernathyhave come to believe that what Archer City really needs is to be saved from itself. They have failed to win over the town with that argument. Abernathy, who grew up on his family’s 8,000-acre Seven Bar Ranch, was in his 20s when he began urging Archer City’s tiny population to try enticing tourists to town, to fill the gaps opening in its failing ranch-and oil-based economy. In his late 30s, he ram-rodded the reconstruction of The Royal and helped create a foundation to oversee its little-theater performances, supper club, and a “Texasville Opry.” In 2002, when he was 40, he became the foundation’s executive director. Two years later, he gave up and moved to Wichita Falls. “I did everything I could do,” Abernathy says. “I gave them all I had. … and maybe it was just that I was barking up the wrong tree. Maybe if I had spent the same amount of time developing indus”But really, I don’t think it would have mattered. There’s some really good people here, but many are suspicious of change.” Both Abernathy and Beesinger say they envisioned using the theater, the square’s 19th century buildings \(which they hoped would include healthy tourThe courthouse in Archer City. book stores to draw people from all over the nation. Abernathy says promoting the bookstores wasn’t popular because many Archer residents disdain them, and some dislike McMurtry himself. “The mentality of the city is that Larry is buying up all the buildings and filling them with books, and what do we need books for?” Abernathy says. “They don’t understand what he created, which is a one-of-a-kind, one of the largest collections of rare and used books in the Southwest.” Beesinger wrote a column in the Archer County News for several years extolling economic development through tourism, arguing that tourists would buy gas, eat at the restaurants, buy books, and stay at the Spur or the Lonesome Dove Inn. But Beesinger was discouraged by the business community’s lack of support and felt he had talked economic development to death. So he changed the column’s focus. “It’s the same old story. Change is hard to accept, and the fear that comes with change;’ Beesinger says, adding that the only things that keeps Archer City from disappearing are the bookstores, the Royal, which has a healthy audience, and the town’s commuters. Mary Webb, one of McMurtry’s close friends and the proprietor of the Lonesome Dove Inn, says she senses jealousy towards McMurtry. When an Austin theater chain, the Alamo Draft House, brought a giant movie screen to town in 2005 to show The Last Picture Show near the Royal, few locals were among the crowd drawn mainly from Dallas, Austin, Wichita Falls, and Houston. But McMurtry himself disagrees with Abernathy and Beesinger, calling them “utopians?’ He doesn’t think his bookstores will attract more tourists to Archer City, because tourists don’t buy books. If tourists come at all, he says, it’s simply “to see where The Last Picture Show was made.” hat supports “Booked Up Inc.” is not tourists, McMurtry says, but book lovers who come to Archer City to explore his stores, and only to explore the stores. Tour buses disgorge passengers at his bookstores who CC are more trouble than they’re worth” because they “damage the stock and get things out of place. Buses are not a guarantee of book sales.,” he says. They also plug up the store’s bathroom. McMurtry says the town’s ambivalence toward him hasn’t hurt his feelings. He’s spent only three or four nights in Archer City in the past year, and “it would be just as true to say I rejected” the town. After all, McMurtry says after leaving in the 1950s, he didn’t return to live 30 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 6, 2007
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