Down winding two-lane roads hemmed by cow pastures and oil fields, this one-stoplight burg immortalized in "The Last Picture Show" isn't really on the way to anywhere.
But for nearly 20 years, book-loving tourists have been drawn to this Texas town near the Oklahoma border by author Larry McMurtry's eclectic shop, filled with hard-to-find, out-of-print and used books.
Now, though, McMurtry's Booked Up will close at year's end, disappointing would-be visitors and worrying many of the town's 1,800 residents.
"It's going to affect us -- especially the restaurants," says Mayor Carl Harrelson, who owns the Onion Creek Grill. "There's not much retail here but the restaurants."
Although the flower and gift shop, insurance agency and banks in buildings around the courthouse square don't rely on tourists, the eateries do. Aaron Ledyard, who opened Cimarron Coffee Co. last year, said his business is just starting to take off.
"We're hoping he'll change his mind before then," Ledyard says of McMurtry. "He's built this treasure of books here, and the monument will stay, so we're hoping he will keep it open."
But McMurtry says his mind is made up, that he needs a break from a business that's been losing customers. The problem is a changing market -- not competition from large chain bookstores in his home town of Wichita Falls, about 25 miles north of Archer City, or Fort Worth, about 100 miles to the southeast.
"The world we created that bookshop for is gone. It doesn't exist anymore," McMurtry, 68, said from his home in Tucson, where he lives part of the year. "We notice that most customers are middle-age to old. The young people are much more eclectic in their pursuit of literacy. They think nothing of going on the Web for other forms of reading."
McMurtry announced the closing Feb. 1 by posting a letter in a bookstore window. During his absence, he will leave the 400,000 volumes in place on the tall white bookshelves in the four buildings that make up his business.
"I will soon enter my seventieth year and would like to travel a bit before I become too decrepit," he wrote. "The books will stay right where they are -- they can slumber in their majesty until the next turn of the wheel."
McMurtry, who has written more than 25 books and 30 screenplays, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Lonesome Dove" and "Terms of Endearment," wants to travel and work on other books. His latest, the contemporary novel "Loop Group," was released late last year and has not registered high on national lists of bestsellers.
He opened the Archer City store in the mid-1980s, more than a decade after he started a handful of antiquarian bookstores in a few other states. But as he closed the other stores through the years, he moved the books to Archer City, now his only remaining store.
As that store grew, McMurtry bought space in three other buildings, featuring different genres in each. Booked Up No. 1 is the main and largest store, a block from the courthouse square and just down the street from the town's lone stoplight. It houses everything from first editions and signed books to works on African studies, political science, Texana and true crime.
Across the street is Booked Up No. 2, focusing on art, children's literature, collecting and crafts, fiction, military history, poetry, science fiction and world history.
In the middle of a building on one side of the courthouse square is Booked Up No. 3, with 18th- and 19th-century books, classical studies, fiction before 1925, foreign books and pamphlets. Booked Up No. 4, in another building on the town square, features ancient history, mythology, art catalogues, sports, cookbooks and even books about books.
On a corner of that block is the Royal Theater, made famous in the 1971 film version of McMurtry's coming-of-age book, "The Last Picture Show," set in a town resembling Archer City. The theater burned in 1965 and wasn't rebuilt until five years ago. It now hosts bands, plays and dinner theater.
Mike Elliott, a Dallas businessman who calls himself an eclectic reader, has visited Booked Up several times in the last two years, sometimes making a special trip just to browse. On a recent Saturday, he spent about $250 on several books, including the complete set of plays by George Bernard Shaw.
"I hate the thought of our losing the store," Elliott said. "It's a hell of a loss."
When McMurtry is in Archer City, he sometimes pushes book-filled carts from store to store, pricing them and arranging them on shelves. The books -- everything from "An Essay on the Principles of Population" to Voltaire's "Candide" -- are arranged "erratically / impressionistically / whimsically / open to interpretation," according to a store sign.
Prices -- ranging from $2 to $1,200 -- are written in pencil in the right corner of the first page of each book and are nonnegotiable. Customers follow the honor system by taking their selections to the first building to pay; there are no employees or cash registers in the three other buildings.
McMurtry's books, however, are no longer sold in Booked Up because he couldn't keep up with autograph requests. His books are sold in the town's bed and breakfast, the Lonesome Dove Inn. But even when he's in town, he won't sign books for customers.
McMurtry once had six employees but now has two, and some days they don't see any customers. He reduced the days and hours of the operation a few years ago, but since the Feb. 1 announcement, he's set the hours at 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
"It's not like people are beating down our door," says McMurtry, who started spending more time in Arizona a few years ago because of his allergies and a lack of restaurants in his home town.
"So it's not the end of the world if a bookstore closes for a year or two."