Ken Sanders’ bookstore, forced to move by developers, finds home at Leonardo


After nearly two years of research, while struggling to keep his business afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic, Salt Lake City bookseller and counter-culture icon Ken Sanders has found a new home for his eponymous store: Leonardo.

Somewhere in 2022, Rare books by Ken Sanders will open a store at the Leonardo, the science and technology museum in Library Square, Sanders told the Salt Lake Tribune.

Salt Lake City City Council voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve a resolution that would allow The Leonardo – which rents the old Salt Lake City Library building at 205 E. 500 South from the city – to under- rent spaces to private companies. The resolution demands that these companies “fulfill a public purpose” and have “a direct link with Leonardo’s mission and programming plan,” according to a council analysis.

For Sanders, it’s a chance to restart the business he started in 1997 at 268 S. 200 East, a few blocks north of Library Square.

“My daughter said, ‘Daddy, at your age are you just crazy? “” Sanders said recently, as he toured the space he plans to occupy at Leo. Sanders turned 70 on December 4.

“I want to do this because this is my last chance to reinvent myself,” Sanders said. “I didn’t think I had it in me, and maybe it will kill me.”

Sanders sees a chance to attract Lion customers to his store.

“Before COVID, The Leo had 170,000 visitors per year,” Sanders said. “They’ll all pass, in essence, right past my bookstore.”

Museum plans

The Leonardo also sees an advantage in the partnership. Opening the museum space to the Sanders store is a way to “go back to our roots,” said Lisa Davis, a member of the museum’s board of trustees, referring to the Leonardo’s mission when it was established 10 years ago. years.

Davis said the tenure when The Leonardo began – in the space occupied by the main Salt Lake City Library branch from 1964 to 2003, before it moved to its current location across Library Square – was to “to make Library Square a very active, dynamic, space oriented community.

Another connection that a Tribune photographer spotted: With his shaggy beard and halo of white hair surrounding his bald crown, Sanders looks a bit like the museum’s namesake, Renaissance artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci.

In February, as the museum began to reopen, Sanders created a pop-up version of his bookstore, Davis said. The mini-store featured a collection of books on the civil rights movement, coinciding with the museum’s exhibit “Sort the race.” And Sanders organized a monthly book club at the museum.

This pop-up area, Sanders said, will become his store’s permanent space for new books, blending into the museum’s cafe and gift shop. The space will be a good place for autographs and readings, as well as the occasional book launch party. (Sanders said Leonardo’s best-kept secret, so far, is that he holds a state liquor license – something he hopes to take advantage of from time to time.)

Part of the space downstairs will be a children’s book section, something Sanders, who is the grandfather of two young children, said he always wanted to create. Sanders said he looks forward to directing story readings for children. “I’m even planning a secret entrance,” he said.

Sanders will be putting the used books section of his store in the basement, rolling out some awesome shelves that he has amassed in other bookstores over the years.

It will take a lot of work to clean up the exhibits that The Leonardo has accumulated over the years. Curios in storage include a carnival-cut version of Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream,” booths touting University of Utah geneticist and Nobel Prize winner Mario Capecchi, and a bust of the late US Senator Jake Garn (from when the museum displayed the flight suit Garn wore on his 1985 flight aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery).

The gem of Sanders’ store plans, he said, will be the space for his rare book business, in a basement space that The Leonardo calls “The Kiva.” It is a former reading room from the building’s era as a library, and is currently inaccessible.

“This will be the coolest rare book room in the universe, when I’m done,” Sanders said.

The rare book business has been Sanders’ bread and butter since he opened his store in 1997, and particularly during the pandemic.

“What has always kept me alive is selling high end books to high end clients and institutions,” Sanders said. Most of those sales are between four and five digits, although every now and then he said, “I sell a Book of Mormon for a hundred thousand, but I could make five thousand. [in commission]. “

“I’m not ready to stop”

Sanders learned in 2014 that real estate development company Ivory Homes had purchased the half-acre space of his store, as well as the business around the corner. Since then he has been waiting for a notice that he should leave.

A building north of the bookstore, which once housed a beauty salon, was razed last year to make way for another skyscraper in downtown Salt Lake City’s construction boom. Earlier this year, Sanders’ neighbors at 200 East – a block of retail space that once housed the Tavernacle Social Club and other businesses – were demolished.

Sanders sounded the alarm in January 2020 that he couldn’t find an affordable location to move his 4,000 square foot store. Years ago, Sanders said, every big city had a low-income neighborhood where sprawling bookstores like his could afford to open up space for plenty of book shelves. Now, he says, “There are no more low-income neighborhoods in any downtown area. They do not exist.

Catherine Weller, co-owner Weller’s book works along with her husband, Tony, said that “what affects Ken is what has affected us, and that is the changing face of downtown”.

Weller noted that “in many central city centers, the place of a big old-fashioned bookstore… is evaporating. The size of the building, the footprint that people need to run businesses like this are going away. “

The Wellers moved their store, founded by Tony’s grandfather Gus in 1929, from its location on Main Street – known for decades as Sam Weller’s Books, named after Tony’s father – to Trolley Square. in 2012. Businesses in this main street block were forced to move or close in 2019, but plans to develop the building were put on hold during the pandemic.

As it turns out, the pandemic provided Sanders with temporary respite from his moving woes. The landlord has proposed a rent delay of up to six months and has pledged to help Sanders apply for federal stimulus money. In the end, Sanders said, his company received $ 45,000 in the form of a forgivable loan from the federal government and a $ 20,000 loan from the city.

More help came from the book lovers themselves. Folk musician Kate MacLeod, an old friend of Sanders, urged him to start a crowdfunding campaign. He launched on GoFundMe.com Pioneer Day, July 24.

“In the first 10 days people gave us $ 100,000,” Sanders said. As of Wednesday, the tally stood at $ 162,365, with pledges from some 2,900 donors.

“It was the most overwhelming and humiliating project I have ever undertaken in my life,” said Sanders. “Do you know how long it takes to send personal emails to [2,900] people, to thank them for their donation? I feel like if they give me money, I should at least say “thank you” to them.

The crowdfunding campaign, as well as online sales during the pandemic, showed Sanders that his store is attracting a younger demographic than he thought.

Younger people, he says, “today have a hundred different ways of spending their time that did not exist when I was a child. But they are still book lovers. i can’t stay used [copies of Edward Abbey’s] ‘Desert Solitaire’, or classical literature, in stock. They read good stuff.

The GoFundMe campaign, Sanders said, was “a mandate, if you will, that they want me to keep doing it.”

Not that Sanders was likely to stop. “I should just take my retirement on my own, but it’s just not in my temper,” he said. “I’m not ready to stop. On the one hand, I have too many bloody books.

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