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Paul Voertman’s impact on Denton and UNT goes beyond a bookstore

Paul Voertman’s impact on Denton and UNT goes beyond a bookstore

Voertman’s on Hickory Street in Denton, Texas is the location of a proposed new student apartment building. Jake King

Paul Voertman’s impact on Denton and UNT goes beyond a bookstore
June 30
16:36 2017

Paul Voertman, the former owner of the Voertmans bookstore, died Wednesday, June 21. He was 88.

A patron of Denton, Voertman (pronounced “Vertman”) not only left his mark on Denton’s business world, but was also known for his contributions in several areas, including the arts and UNT.

“He was an incredibly generous person both in spirit and financially,” Deborah Leliaert, vice president for University Relations and Planning, said. “He helped many people who were in need. He never found it necessary for people to know he helped them, just that they got help.”

These contributions include an $8 million bequest to the school, which will be divided up evenly among the College of Music, the College of Arts and Sciences (now two colleges) and the College of Visual Arts and Design.

James Scott, the former dean of the College of Music, said he was always very giving. This included an annual gift made out to the college that Scott said was always used for scholarships.

“He was always interested in everything [the College of Music] was doing,” Scott said. “He’s helped many many students over the years.”

He also donated $1.5 million for a new concert organ at the Murchison Performing Arts Center to commemorate his life partner, Richard Ardoin, who died in 2002. The instrument was inaugurated in 2008.

“Paul was absolutely fascinated by it,” Scott said. “During the construction period, he would regularly make trips to see exactly how things were progressing. He just took great delight in seeing the instrument come together.”

In 1986, Voertman received the Greater Denton Arts Council Recognition Award for his contributions to the local arts through the style his store maintained, as well as commissioning various local art over the years.

Leliaert said UNT plans to commemorate Voertman in Fall of this year.


Founded in 1925 by Roy Voertman, Paul’s father, the store was initially a teacher’s general shop.

When Roy died in 1952, it was up to Paul to return to Denton and take over the shop. Paul never intended to own the shop and planned on running it until they were able to sell it.

That changed as he found his footing as the shop’s owner.

“He had a flair for running a retail store he did not know he had,” Link Chalon, a Denton musician and friend of Voertman, said.

Being across the street from campus, Chalon said the store naturally drifted into textbooks.

“They were very innovative in finding ways to sell more textbooks at a lower cost than everybody else,” Chalon said. “They were just way ahead of everyone else.”

Chalon said the store had a knack for selling everything someone needed, adding the shelves were “crammed” with the most interesting things.

“I know personally I bought my Christmas gifts there, year after year,” Chalon said. “Because I could find everything I needed for everyone in my family.”

Chalon also touched on how Voertman treated his employees, offering them higher pay than most places and Christmas bonuses.

“He had so many employees,” Chalon said. “They were always paid more than minimum wage … he had full benefits for all his employees, even his part-time ones.”

Chalon said it bothered Voertman to see CEO’s paid more over the years and continue to give themselves raises, something Voertman refused to do.

“He never made more than twice as much as his highest paid employee made,” Chalon said. “That was kind of his rule … he felt if the employees were happy his customers were happy.”

Voertman’s today

Voertman sold the company in 1990 to Nebraska Book Co., and was not heavily involved with the store for nearly the last three decades of his life.

The company was eventually bought by an investment company in 2013. Tanner Clifton, 25, and current general manager for Voertman’s off Hickory Street in Denton, said it was around this time the store began to change its image again.

“Back when Paul owned the store … he did service the students, but he tried to service the community with having that gift store,” Clifton said. “We tried to gear the store really towards UNT.”

Gearing towards the university included stocking clothes that were more affordable for students. Clifton also said they phased out the gift section formerly found in the front of the store and made an art gallery out of it, which has hosted both work from students and local artists.

Clifton also said the store works with the athletic department to help prepare books for athletes.

“We’ve really tried to see what we can do for the school,” Clifton said.

However, some are not a fan of the direction the store has gone in. Chalon said the difference after Voertman sold the store was apparent, calling it “bare bones.”

“I had not been over there after he sold the store for many years,” Chalon said. “I finally went over there one day and walked through it and it was just heartbreaking.”

Regarding the rumors of developers potentially coming in and replacing the Voertman’s building with a new student apartment complex, which would move Voertman’s into the first floor of the building. Clifton said while it had been talked about, nothing has been set to happen.

“There’s a lot of city work going on [in the area],” Clifton said. “So that kind of effects the ability of the area to develop.”

Clifton added these kinds of changes may be in the cards, as owners of the shop have talked about reducing the square footage.

“For a bookstore this is very big,” Clifton said. “No matter what, we’ll be here. We wouldn’t disappear.”

Featured Image: The Voertman’s bookstore was founded in 1925 by Roy Voertman, Paul’s father. Paul took the store over after his father’s death. File

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