What? No Kepler’s?


10,000 square feet of books

On Christmas Eve, Flavorwire named the top ten U.S. bookstores here. The article begins in this user-friendly way:  “Bookstores are dying. They’re dying because of jerks who are too cheap to buy a hardcover, or even a paperback, and too lazy to get a library card.”  Odd, for an article that is running online.

Two bookstores in Seattle made the cut, and Powell’s of Portland.  San Francisco’s City Lights is named — no surprise there, either:

Justly famous: City Lights

“Started by poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Peter D. Martin, City Lights Booksellers and Publishers in San Francisco, CA offers the best in classic and newly-released literature. Their claim to fame is publishing Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems then suffering through the resulting obscenity trial. After all that, the store was designated a San Francisco landmark. Supplementing their in-store performances and promotion is their delightful podcast with news on releases and upcoming events.”

Kepler's in 1955

The comments are filled with protest.  Several nominate San Francisco’s Green Apple Books and one reader voted for Diane Goodman’s Ocean Avenue Books.  But, surprise:  no Cody’s and Moe’s from Berkeley.  And … what?  No Kepler’s?

After all, the fame of Kepler’s is international.  Salman Rushdie, the Shah of Blah himself, lamented during a recent visit that he had “never made it to Kepler’s before” and added “I am delighted to finally find my way to Menlo Park.”

Roy Kepler

Kepler’s was founded in May 1955 by peace activist Roy Kepler. The Grateful Dead gave live shows there early in their career, and they, along with folk singer Joan Baez, often made appearances at the bookstore.  (Management assumed by Clark Kepler, Roy’s son, in 1980.)  Customer loyalty is fierce.

In 1990 Publishers Weekly named Kepler’s “Bookseller of the Year.” However, by 1996, large discount warehouses and Amazon.com were revolutionizing the bookselling business. Kepler’s closed its doors on August 31, 2005.  That’s where the fierce customer loyalty kicked in:  The local community responded with demonstrations. Thousands gathered on the expanse of what is now known as “Kepler’s Plaza” to express support and protest the loss.

The bookstore re-opened in October 2005.

Kepler’s story is told in the documentary, Paperback Dreams, which aired on PBS, tells the tale of two landmark independent booksellers and their struggle to survive. Cody’s and Kepler’s Books helped launch a counter-culture, and for 50 years have protected free speech and celebrated intellectual inquiry. At one time or another, the owners of these stores were harassed, vandalized, threatened, and even suffered acts of terrorism for simply selling books. But their future is uncertain in our fast digital world.  You can order the DVD here.

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6 Responses to “What? No Kepler’s?”

  1. Links: Closing the Books | Mark Athitakis’ American Fiction Notes Says:

    […] Haven laments the absence of Menlo Park’s Kepler’s on a recent list of the country’s best U.S. […]

  2. Elena Danielson Says:

    Definitely Kepler’s belongs on the list, also Moe’s and Serendipity in Berkeley…but Cody’s was paradise at Haste and Telegraph….I rented an apartment at Haste and Tele in 1968 just to be across the street from Cody’s where I could buy books in German and Russian…and the flower seller on the patio in front would give me unsold roses at the end of the day….

  3. Dawn Kepler Says:

    Hey, thanks for speaking up for my dad’s store (now my brother’s). I only ask that books outlive me. I never want to be without them.

  4. Info-Lines.com Says:

    ‘Huckleberry Finn’ edition to cut N-word…

    What is a word worth? According to Publishers Weekly, NewSouth Books’ upcoming edition of Mark Twain’s seminal novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn will remove all instances of the “n” word—I’ll give you a hint, it’s not nonesuch—presen……

  5. Pierre F. Lherisson Says:

    This is the equivalency of literary time travel to change the past.
    Altering the realities of precedent epochs or generations for the convenience of the present is unethical at best; it is a dangerous revision of history and an Orwellian nightmare at its worst form Printed matters seem to be in their way out and will be replaced by digital media. That means, those that control the media will be able to alters or erase the breath, the scope or the essence of historical documents for their convenience while destroying or vilify the facts about their adversaries. Now it is easy to delete any information from those electronics books or the web sites.
    Could you imagine that in a thousand years from now a new empire decided to revise history and declared that the United States of America never existed and it was a myth like the Atlantis They could alter history to say that the black plague, the extermination of the people in the new world, Black slavery in the Americas or the holocaust were myth. Could you imagine after a slow process of altering words and paragraphs from the facts whether it would take 100 or 10,000 years they will arrive to prove that people such as Hitler, Stalin, Alexander the Great, Voltaire, Franz Kafka, Isaac Newton, James Maxwell,Julius Robert Oppenheimer, Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King Jr, Abraham Lincoln, Douglass Mc Arthur, Richard Milhous Nixon, William Jefferson Clinton, George Bush, or Barack Hussein Obama never existed.
    This revision of history is wrong.

  6. Cynthia Haven Says:

    Sorry for your late addition to the conversation, P.F.L. (the over-vigilant work of spam folders) — but I think you’re commenting on the wrong post!