War rages on the Comstock over use of 'Mark Twain Bookstore' name

VIRGINIA CITY - The frustration began a little more than a year ago, the first time Joe Curtis had to explain to a confused customer that there were two Mark Twain Bookstores here - his, which has included a museum since 1960, and a smaller bookstore operating out of the Territorial Enterprise building on C Street, which also features a museum and gift shop.

Business confusion soon blew up into opposition. All of Virginia City became aware of the trouble between the two business owners after an advertisement ran in the Virginia City Register on May 5.

It read: "The Mark Twain Bookstore is NOT LOCATED at the Territorial Enterprise Museum nor is the Mark Twain Museum. Both Mark Twain Bookstore and Museum are names that are trademarked corporation and business licensed names located at 111 South C. St., Virginia City and have no connection what-so-ever with the fine businesses known as the Mark Twain Saloon or the Territorial Enterprise Museum."

It was signed by the Mark Twain Bookstore, owned by Curtis, who inherited the business from his parents. Curtis said he doesn't have any problem with the two businesses run by Schafer, but he does have a problem with his customers getting confused by the signs outside Schafer's business.

"Mr. Schafer opened a bookshop above the Territorial Enterprise Museum and he began telling people that he's the Mark Twain Bookstore. It caused confusion," Curtis said.

Schafer said the public has been misled about the name, and it could go to litigation. He has no plans to drop the name.

"The Territorial Enterprise has been on the current site since 1862," Schafer said. "Samuel Clemens took the name 'Mark Twain' while working at the Territorial Enterprise. It became the Mark Twain Museum in 1946. My family has owned it since 1968, when my mom purchased it."

Curtis said that he called Schafer about the confusion, but nothing changed. The official name of Curtis' business is "Mark Twain Museum of Memories." Curtis said that he has a state trademark to use "Mark Twain Bookstore."

"I found out that Schafer doesn't have a business license for the Mark Twain Museum," Curtis said. "You can't have signs for a business that you don't have a license for. The building department didn't do anything about it for years. Finally I filed a complaint with them. And then one day it became a problem so I put notice in the paper."

The Territorial Enterprise, a newspaper in the city's more prosperous days, is owned by Schafer and operates as a gift store and museum. The conflict surrounds two "Mark Twain Museum" signs that Schafer has on his building.

This trademark dispute isn't new to the Storey County Commissioners, who've recently come through waves regarding the World Famous Mustang Ranch name. Wild Horse brothel owner Lance Gilman attempted to secure a business license from Storey County in December to operate a brothel and gift shops using the notorious name. He was restricted until ownership of the trademark is settled.

Litigation on the matter continues between Gilman and David Burgess, who also operates a brothel in Storey County. At one point the commission had a scare that the county could be sued for granting the name to either party.

Worried over legal action directed toward the county, Storey County District Attorney Harold Swafford cautioned the commission at a recent meeting to avoid entering the battle between the two business owners using the Mark Twain name and signs.

"If they want to fight it out they can fight it out," Swafford said. "Don't drag the county into it.

But the county building department did take action. County building official Dean Haymore wrote a letter April 26 to Schafer, directing the businessman to "remove and/or replace the aforementioned illegal signs on or before fourteen days from the date of this letter."

Haymore wrote that the building department was advised that Schafer doesn't have a business license for the Mark Twain Museum.

Schafer's lawyer, John Sandy Jr., said Schafer has filed for a business license for the name Mark Twain Museum in the past, but not recently.

"Hopefully, we can just work this out between the parties," Sandy said. "I don't think this is something that needs to be dragged out for a long period of time. This is an historical building, so hopefully we can maintain it the way it's been for many years."

Candy Duncan, executive director of the Carson City Convention and Visitors Bureau, has experience with the hot button copyright issue. About six years ago, a Missouri firm tried to get the bureau to stop using "Mark Twain."

"We had been running an ad saying Mark Twain had visited Carson City, which he did," she said. "And this company back East found the ad because we ran it in a national publication. They sent us a letter saying we had to cease and desist."

Duncan said thanks to the effort of the bureau's attorney, the company agreed to let it use "Mark Twain" in advertising.

"They agreed to that, as long as we didn't discuss the facts of the case anymore," she said.

n Contact reporter Becky Bosshart at bbosshart@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1212.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Sign in to comment