Friday, September 02, 2005

A small local grief to go alongside the ones too large to comprehend . . .

The horror show in New Orleans, human suffering abetted by government indifference, wasn't the only sad news yesterday. "Read it and weep: Kepler's closes" read the headline in the SF Chron. A little thing in contrast to the monstrous events of the day (and then there was the aftermath of the stampede in Bagdhad. . .) but sad nonetheless.

Kepler's was a famously independent, politically progressive small bookstore on the San Francisco Peninsula. The founder, Roy Kepler, proved to reluctant booksellers that there could be a profit selling paperbacks, then the stepchildren of the publishing world. He also was not shy about advertising his convictions. A 50th anniversary retrospective published by a Palo Alto community newspaper last year reported:

. . . in 1956 Roy Kepler joined the forefront of the anti-nuclear, anti-war movement. Signs appeared on the window: "Peninsula's largest anti-missile bookstore." And for two years at least, Roy and Patricia Kepler got written up in local newspapers for withholding part of their income taxes to protest military spending. . . .

Roy Kepler went to jail in 1960 for protesting nuclear weapons at the Lawrence Livermore Radiation Laboratory. In 1967 he was arrested again, along with Ira Sandperl and Joan Baez, for trying to shut down the Oakland Induction Center as part of "Stop the Draft Week."

Mr. Kepler's high-visibility protests made him and his store the target of people who hated his politics and had no reservations about violence. In 1968 and 1969, there were a series of arson attempts, attacks, and a bomb at Kepler's stores in Menlo Park and Los Altos. Mr. Kepler even received a death threat. He was quoted as saying, "I suppose someone is mad at me for not being violent."

Roy Kepler was eventually succeeded by his son, Clark, in management of the enterprise; the younger Kepler focused on the business of bookselling and brought the store through many of the challenges that bedevil independent booksellers -- until today.

The takeover of print publishing by media conglomerates more interested in the bottom line that the quality of writing, internet book retailing, new media forms like this one that compete for the attention of potential book readers -- all these are killing independent booksellers. Clark Kepler's final letter tells the story:

After 50 years of bookselling in Menlo Park, Kepler’s is going out of business. The decision to close our doors has been one of the most difficult in my life. As much as we love what we do and would like to continue another 50 years, we simply cannot. The economic downturn since 2001 has proven to be more than we can rebound from.

Many years ago, when my partner and I were young and poor, our idea of a major diversion was to drive out of the city and spend a couple of hours browsing in Kepler's -- it was a kind of mini-vacation. It is hard to get that sense of going away from browsing the internet. Today I am sad for those who will miss out on it.

UPDATE: 11:00pm, 9/2/05 -- It seems investors, landlords and readers are making a last ditch effort to save the store, according to the Palo Alto Almanac.

UPDATE: 10/03/05 Great news. The Mercury News says Keplers has been saved and will reopen October 8. See also here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Jan.