Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Kepler's Books, 1955 - 2005

Inconceivably, two of my three favorite bookstores in Menlo Park, California, have closed down within a few months of one another (see my earlier post about Wessex Books). Today at 9 am, Clark Kepler announced to his employees that Kepler's Books, after fifty years in the business of selling books and ever a stalwart in the local business community, was no more.

My wife sent me the Palo Alto Online link to this story a moment ago and it was like a blow to the head. When I first moved to the Bay Area after college, in 1987, I lived in Union City, and when asking friends and coworkers about a good bookstore in the area the Kepler's name was all I heard (well, that and Cody's Books in Berkeley). I began making weekly pilgrimages to Kepler's, usually on weekends, and have been a loyal customer ever since, even when I lived in San Bruno for a short time.

Without wishing to appear melodramatic, I'm stunned and dismayed that Kepler's is gone, and I can't imagine downtown Menlo Park without this business. It is, or was, the hub of downtown Menlo Park, and its demise will almost surely be followed by that of Cafe Borrone, Feldman's Books and many other businesses. The loss is doubly painful for me because I was a big fan of Wessex Books on Santa Cruz Avenue in Menlo Park (across the street from Kepler's), and we lost that bookstore earlier this year when its owner wished to retire and couldn't find a buyer.

Ironically, I was just in Kepler's a few days ago with my three-year-old daughter, giving her the grand tour and thinking to myself how solid the business seemed, how there was always a good crowd with people queued up making purchases. The fanfare surrounding the 50th anniversary this year certainly gave no clue to any financial woes. I wonder why Kepler didn't give his loyal customer base some warning, marshall the troops, that sort of thing. Clearly the situation must have been dire, beyond repair, to close the store with no final sale or customer notice.

Perhaps a Borders or a Barnes & Noble will take Kepler's place, if they can get Cafe Borrone and the other first-floor businesses evicted to make room for their huge stock of narrowly-focused crap. These truly are the end days of the independent bookseller....


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