Posts Tagged ‘Roy Kepler’

Will Kepler’s go all high-tech on us?

Monday, July 30th, 2012

Kepler's now, not exactly low-tech but middling-tech

The Bay Area loves Kepler’s Bookstore, and its patrons know how to put their money where their mouth is: Nearly 700 locals recently donated about $750,000 to keep Kepler’s afloat.

I’ve written about Kepler’s before here, and covered many of its events, too many to list.  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.)  It closed for two months in 2005; then the community rallied to reopen it.

Now Kepler’s is launching Kepler’s 2020,  to jump-start a “next-generation community literary and cultural center.”

Madan: spanking new ideas

According to the website, “The project aims to create an innovative hybrid business model that includes a for-profit, community-owned-and-operated bookstore, and a nonprofit organization that will feature on-stage author interviews, lectures by leading intellectuals, educational workshops and other literary and cultural events.”

So far, so good.  The Washington Post, in a 3-part article entitled, “How to Save an Indie Bookstore” (here and hereand here) describes the newest effort of  “Kepler’s Transition Team”:

“The most ambitious part of this reorganization may be what’s happening this week. Praveen Madan [the co-owner of an indie bookstore called The Booksmith in San Francisco] has invited almost 80 people from around the country to a three-day meeting to re-imagine what a community bookstore could be. Publishers, authors, fundraisers, entrepreneurs, bookstore staff, philanthropists and even loyal customers are holed up in a large conference room at the Oshman Family JCC.”

Funky days in 1955

Some parts sound good, some not-so-good.  I could do without this: “Our three-day conference is filled with publishers, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and authors determined to devise a store that’s much more Internet savvy, with a staff that’s constantly blogging, tweeting and interacting with customers on Facebook. They imagine live-streaming author events, offering virtual book groups, allowing customers to interact with author holograms and providing Web surfers with real-time access to the store’s inventory and staff.”

I don’t want a bookstore to do all those things, thank you very much.  I spend my days blogging, tweeting, Facebooking.  While I think author Kevin Smokler has something of the right idea when he says,  “We cannot look at the advent of the e-book as a problem to be solved or a trend to be minimized. Somehow, I should be able to visit Kepler’s and be an e-book consumer at the same time” – I do not want Kepler’s to be sending “recommendations” to my smartphone as soon as I walk into the store, as the WaPo article suggests.

The original Kepler

In fact, I think that’s the single most annoying feature of Amazon. I check the publication date of a book to correct a reference, or look up an author’s previous books might be when I run across her name in a newspaper article, and based on such random data Amazon is assuming it knows my tastes and is shooting me recommendations.  “‘Smart shelves’ with integrated video screens would nimbly change to reflect buyers’ interests”?  My worst dreams come true!

I’d be content if Kepler’s simply continued to sponsor top-notch readings for Jane Hirshfield, Dana Gioia, and others. I’ll be happy to purchase my Le Monde or Paris Review there.  But then, I’m an old-fashioned girl.  I think what it really needs is a few old couches, like the old Chimera on Lytton Avenue.

Kepler’s partisans still know how to put their money where their mouth is: members of this week’s conference pledged to raise another $250,000.

What? No Kepler’s?

Wednesday, December 29th, 2010

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 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.