Just one month after its abrupt closing, Kepler’s Books and Magazines in Menlo Park, California, has reopened thanks to an outpouring of support from the community.
The bookstore went out of business at the end of August, citing a loss of sales to the chains and Amazon.com, as well as rising costs.
Founded in 1955 by the father of current owner Clark Kepler, the store has been a beloved community and cultural institution. A few days after it closed, more than 500 people rallied in downtown Menlo Park in hopes of saving the business. Many posted heartfelt notes on the storefront. “I felt a sense of wonderment,” Kepler told Bookselling This Week. “It was astonishing, encouraging, and humbling.”
Encouraged by the strong show of support, a group of seventeen local entrepreneurs, many leaders in the high-tech sector, came together to re-capitalize and rescue Kepler’s. Each has invested at least $25,000 in the business, raising a total of $500,000. They have drafted a new business plan and marketing strategy, and formed a board of directors. Clark Kepler is serving as board president and chief executive officer.
Daniel Mendez, who co-founded the wireless company Visto and led the effort to save Kepler’s, told the San Jose Mercury News that bookstores are not a great investment, but he felt the store was a critical community institution, as well as one of his family’s favorite places.
Their goal is to get the store back on sound footing, generate additional support from residents, expand Kepler’s online sales, and perhaps turn the business into a nonprofit community enterprise.
One of their first steps was renegotiating the lease. The property owner had tried to hold Kepler’s to a rate negotiated at the height of the dot-com boom, which the store’s new investors said was out of step with current market conditions. When Kepler’s closed, the property owner was widely criticized by residents and ultimately agreed to a more affordable rate.
Thousands of customers turned out for the re-opening, lining up dozens deep to buy books. Customers are being encouraged to become members of the store. Annual dues levels start at $25 with benefits ranging from discounts to invitations to select author receptions.
Kepler’s new slogan, which is featured on staff shirts and in ads, is: “Follow me to Kepler’s. It’s our bookstore.”
Perhaps because of its Silicon Valley location, Kepler’s has been especially hard hit by Amazon.com. Many of those who were upset by
Kepler’s closing and rallied to save the store admit that they themselves had fallen into the habit of shopping at Amazon.com, even though they counted on Kepler’s to be there for browsing and author events.
(One national study found that even loyal customers of independent bookstore typically buy more than half of their books elsewhere.)
The question now is whether the community support for the store engendered by its near extinction will be sustained over the long-term.