The Almanac: Can this bookstore be saved?

Andrea Gemmet has a story on the Almanac’s site about the possibility of saving the bookstore.

There’s a chance — a chance — that Kepler’s Books & Magazines in downtown Menlo Park may not be as dead as everyone feared.

The sudden demise of the popular independent bookstore following Clark Kepler’s short, emotional announcement at a 9 a.m. all-staff meeting held Wednesday, August 31, reverberated up and down the Peninsula, as the store’s many devotees reacted with shock, sorrow and disbelief. Almost as soon as word got around that the bookstore was shuttered and locked, there was talk of saving Kepler’s.
Mr. Kepler said he was still preparing to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection last week, but he had not yet done so.

“I’m running 100 miles an hour in opposite directions,” he said of his discussions with potential investors and the bankruptcy proceedings. “It’s very draining. At the end of the day, my head is spinning and I’m asking myself, ‘What am I doing?’ But I get up in the morning and keep doing it.”

See the full article here.

The Almanac/Palo Alto Weekly: A ‘miracle’ ray of hope for Kepler’s?

Clark Kepler told the Almanac today that serious investors have come forward and expressed interest in saving the bookstore:

A ray of hope has emerged that Kepler’s Bookstore in Menlo Park could be resurrected.

Owner Clark Kepler told the Almanac weekly newspaper (sister paper of the Palo Alto Weekly) Friday that three “qualified investors” have come forward who might help save the 50-year-old store — a Peninsula landmark and cultural hub.

“Miracles started happening,” after the investors contacted him, Kepler said in the interview. “I’m entertaining qualified investors who are looking at saving Kepler’s.” He declined to name them or give details about the magnitude of the bookstore’s financial troubles.

“Daily and hourly, things are happening. Yesterday morning I first started getting these possibilities coming forward,” he said Friday. “I think something is going to happen in the next few days or in the next week that will tell me what direction we’re going in.

In addition, the Palo Alto-based Tan Group, owner of the Menlo Center complex where Kepler’s has been located since 1989, issued a short press release declaring it wants to keep Kepler’s there and saying it met with Kepler Friday “to determine how we might work together to make this happen.”

The release said the group was “stunned to hear … that Kepler’s books had closed their doors. Contrary to the impression given by the media, on several occasions in the past we have worked closely with Clark Kepler in successfully navigating financial challenges.”

“We consider Kepler’s a unique asset to, and irreplaceable part of Menlo Center” and “very much want to retain them,” the release stated. “We were encouraged by today’s meeting and will continue our efforts to help the Kepler’s legacy endure.”

See the rest of the story on Palo Alto Online.

Help Save Kepler’s Books in Menlo Park

People, people—

After having spent last night mourning at Borrone’s, I am ready to see what we, the people of the community, might be able to do to save my favorite bookstore. Until we learn more from Clark Kepler about his plans, I’m not sure what, if anything will be possible. However, I am interested in gathering some people who have an interest in preserving the bookstore to discuss what we might do. I have been in touch with people in the bookselling community who know Clark, and hope to have some updates posted here soon. In the meantime, if you are interested in helping, please send me an email so I can add you to the list.

Rick Opaterny

Friday Update: As mentioned in the above post, it appears that some potential investors interested in saving the store have surfaced and are in discussions with Clark Kepler. If you have any additional details, please send them in.

Bloggers mourn the loss of Kepler’s

Neil Gaiman noted the cancellation of his tour stop at Kepler’s on his blog.

Dara, a former Kepler’s employee, in LA encourages us to all support our local independents.

Another former longtime employee posts here.

This blogger sighs and compares the closing of Kepler’s to that of Wordsworth in Harvard Square last year.

This blogger is in shock, while another is devastated.

The Mercury suggested that competition from Amazon killed Kepler’s. Here is a response at Seven Generational Ruminations.

Geoff Goodfellow likens the closing to “a death in the family.”

Soccer magazines from England

The final paragraphs of the article that appeared in the Mercury today:

The steady stream of visitors who approached the locked doors on Wednesday included Menlo Park public librarian Cathy Smith. “It breaks my heart,” she said. She and the other city librarians came to Kepler’s on their lunch break. And, of course, it’s where she bought books. “I don’t know where to go,” she said. “I can’t imagine where to go.”

Kepler’s celebrated its 50th anniversary in May with great fanfare and a huge community turnout.

“My dad had a vision of what a bookseller’s role in society was,” Clark Kepler said in a 2004 interview. Roy Kepler determined that his bookstore would be a community place where readers could find a book on any topic.

Karan Das-Grande, 10, was just his kind of customer. The boy’s hands went up to cover his face when he read the closing sign. “What? What! My soccer magazines! From England!” he said. “This is the only place I could get them.”

What did you buy at Kepler’s? Leave a comment or send an email.

Clark Kepler Filing for Chapter 7

Both the Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Daily News reported todat that Clark Kepler is filing for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This from the Palo Alto Online:

Kepler’s Bookstore owner Clark Kepler reportedly is telling employees to cash their checks immediately because he is filing for bankruptcy today, according to two-year employee Chelsea McNeel.

Local coverage of Kepler’s closing

Here are the local headlines with links to articles:

Palo Alto Online: Kepler’s Bookstore goes out of business

San Francisco Chronicle: Read it and weep: Kepler’s closes

San Jose Mercury News: Closing the Book on Kepler’s

San Mateo County Times: Kepler’s closes doors with no warning

CBS 5: Longtime Menlo Park Bookstore Abruptly Shuts Down

The San Francisco Examiner: Much-loved independent bookseller Kepler’s calls it quits

San Mateo Daily Journal: Independent bookstore closes

San Jose Mercury News Blogs: Memories of Kepler’s Books & Magazines in Palo Alto

And some non-local coverage:

Publishers Weekly: A California Institution Shuts Its Doors

Palo Alto Online: “Rent Helped Kill Kepler’s”

An article on Palo Alto Online adds support for my suspicion that Kepler’s was stuck in a long, expensive, inflexible lease that was priced during the bubble days of 2000 or so.

An “inordinately high ‘pre-bubble’ rent structure” contributed to the financial crisis that forced Kepler’s Bookstore to close, David Johnson, Menlo Park’s business development officer, told City Council members in a late-morning e-mail today.

He said he is starting today on an “effort to find a suitable replacement business” for the central location on El Camino Real in downtown Menlo Park.


He said the city “worked with Clark Kepler to help him in seeking relief from an inordinately high ‘pre-bubble’ rent structure. No relief was granted.”

It seems like a group may have to form to buy both the bookstore and a retail space. I’m not sure whether it is even possible for an independent bookstore to survive in the current location on El Camino and Santa Cruz, which is owned by the Tan Group. The Tan Group refused to comment to the reporter from Palo Alto Online about the structure of its lease with Kepler. Here is the address and phone number for the Tan Group: 3630 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94306, 650.493.6500.

FRIDAY UPDATE: The Tan Group’s website appears to be down today. I wonder why.

Kepler’s Closed

Last night a friend and I arrived at Kepler’s to find it closed–for good. That I may never again call someone and say, “Meet me along the fiction back wall at Kafka!” makes me feel sick. I will be posting links to coverage of this story and other Kepler’s information, memories, etc. If anyone is interested in joining a discussion about what we can do to keep an excellent independent bookseller in the area, please email me.

Here is the text of the letter posted by Clark Kepler on the bookstore’s door and online at

Dear Friend of Kepler’s,

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.

I want to share my sorrow with this ending. Kepler’s has enjoyed the support of this community from our inception in the 1950s, through both turbulent and joyful times. I feel blessed to have personally served as this community’s bookseller for 26 of those years.

In today’s political and social climate I would like to be there with you and for you, providing books and writers with varied ideas and provocative opinions, but the constancy of change will not allow it. So, I want to express my heart felt gratitude and appreciation for your support over the years. It has been wonderful.


Clark Kepler

Literary events for June 2005

Here are some listings for local literary happenings during the remainder of the month, which we selected carefully and posted haphazardly. Events are free unless otherwise noted.

Wednesday, June 8
Nicole Krauss reads from her novel, The History of Love, at 7 pm at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books on Van Ness in San Francisco.

Thursday, June 9

David Sedaris reads at 7 pm at Booksmith on Haight in San Francisco.

Nicole Krauss reads at Kepler’s in Menlo Park at 7:30 pm.

Sunday, June 12
826 Valencia hosts a seminar on writing and publishing poetry from 6 until 9 pm. Panelists include Robert Hass, Brenda Hillman, Joyce Jenkins, and Genny Lim . James Kass, the executive director of Youth Speaks, will moderate. Cost is $100 per person.

Monday, June 13
David Ewing Duncan reads from his new book, The Geneticist Who Played Hoops With My DNA, at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books on Van Ness in San Francisco.

Tuesday, June 14

The Commonwealth Club of San Francisco hosts the California Book Awards at 5 pm. Tickets are $15. Location: 595 Market St., Second Floor.

Wednesday, June 15
Paul Theroux reads from his new novel, Blinding Light, at Kepler’s in Menlo Park at 7:30 pm.

Michael Cunningham does a City Arts & Lectures event at the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco at 8 pm. Tickets are $20.

Friday, June 17
Michael Cunningham reads from his new novel, Specimen Days, at Kepler’s in Menlo Park at 7:30. Tickets are $30 at Kepler’s and include a copy of Specimen Days.

Monday, June 20
Nick Hornby reads from his new novel, A Long Way Down, at 7 pm at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books on Van Ness in San Francisco.

Tuesday, June 21
Nick Hornby reads from his new novel, A Long Way Down, at 7:30 pm at Kepler’s in Menlo Park.

Kaui Hart Hemmings reads from her first collection of short stories, House of Thieves, at 7 pm at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books on Van Ness in San Francisco.

Friday, June 24
Daniel Clowes reads from his new graphic novel, Ice Haven, at Booksmith on Haight at 7 pm.

Saturday, June 25
Salvador Plascencia reads from his first novel, The People of Paper, and Eli Horowitz unveils Issue 16 of McSweeney’s at 7 pm at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books on Van Ness in San Francisco.

Tuesday, June 28
Frank Deford discusses the creation of modern baseball at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. Tickets are $18 for non-members and $12 for members. Get there at 5:30 pm for the wine reception or 6 pm for the program.

New York Times on class in fiction

Charles McGrath provides today’s installment in the Times’ mostly excellent series on class in America. His essay about class in fiction offers little that we haven’t heard before and includes this horrendous paragraph:

Celebrities, in fact, have inherited much of the glamour and sexiness that used to attach itself to the aristocracy. If Gatsby were to come back today, he would come back as Donald Trump and would want a date not with Daisy but with Britney. And if Edith Wharton were still writing, how could she not include a heavily blinged hip-hop mogul?

Books on Monday

Books bought:
That Night by Alice McDermott
A Smuggler’s Bible by Joseph McElroy
The Last Good Chance by Tom Barbash
How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
Embers by Sandor Marai

Books read:
The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
How to Breathe Underwater by Julie Orringer

Tender is the Night

Maud is preparing to reread one of my favorite novels. Tender is the Night and has a little post on it up at her site. I first read this book for a class on Fitzgerald six years ago and reread it three years ago. I don’t think I have read a better book about someone breaking apart, in which causality and motivation no longer make sense to the reader with wonderful and unsettling effects.

Jonathan Safran Foer on Forum

Jonathan Safran Foer was on KQED’s Forum with Michael Krasny on April 18. Here’s a link to the show archive page on which you can listen to the interview in Real Audio format.

Kazuo Ishiguro at Kepler’s

My friend Casey and I saw Kazuo Ishiguro speak at Kepler’s on Monday. He read the first chapter from his new novel, Never Let Me Go, and then took some questions from the audience. Unfortunately, I disproportionate number of the questions asked about his writing process. Questions on craft, when asked at readings, tend to produce interminably boring answers. Ishiguro did, however, note an interesting aspect of his work, which is that setting is usually the last element that he comes up with in his novels. He can have an entire novel ready to put down on the page and still be missing a setting for it.

Other comments from Ishiguro:

He no longer writes about Japan or the Japanese because when he did, he was sort of annointed Britain’s expert on all things Japanese, which seemed to him a limiting and burdening label that was also terribly inappropriate.

The Unconsoled apparently enjoys some sort of strange popularity in the Bay Area. He said that it’s the only bok people seem to be interested in at his book readings.

F. Scott Fitzgerald Conference

The eight F. Scott Fitzgerald Conference begins tomorrow at Hofstra University in New York. As a huge Fitzgerald fan, I wish I could be there. The focus this year is on Fitzgerald’s time out on Long Island, where he conceived and wrote much of The Great Gatsby. (Because of the conference’s location and subject, it even got some nice coverage in the Times.) Fitzgerald lived at 6 Gateway Drive in Great Neck—a house that became the model for Nick Carraway’s West Egg bungalow in Gatsby. I visited New York for the first time when I was 17 and this was the one place that I had to check out. So, I took the LIRR out to Great Neck, and walked out to the house. At the time it was undergoing some rather extensive remodeling. Last May before I moved out of New York, I made it a point to go out to Great Neck again to see the house. Here is how it looked in 2004:
Fitzgerald House