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Ken Sanders moves his eponymous bookstore to The Leonardo

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

Around 2022, Rare Books by Ken Sanders will be opening stores in The Leonardo, a science and technology museum on Library Square, Sanders told The Salt Lake Tribune.

The Salt Lake City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to pass a resolution allowing The Leonardo – the company that leases the former Salt Lake City Library building at 205 E. 500 South from the city – to Private businesses lease the space. The resolution requires those businesses to “perform a public purpose” and have “a direct connection to Leonardo’s mission and programming plans,” according to a panel analysis.

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

“My daughter said, ‘Dad, are you crazy at your age? “Sanders said recently when he toured the space he plans to take over at The Leo. Sanders turns 70 on December 4.

“I wanted to do it because it was my last chance to reinvent myself,” Sanders said. “I don’t think I have it in me, and maybe it will kill me.”

Sanders saw an opportunity to attract patrons of The Leo to his store.

“Before COVID, The Leo had 170,000 visitors a year,” Sanders said. “In essence, they will all pass through my bookstore.”

Museum plan

Leonardo also sees benefits in the partnership. Opening the museum’s 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 directors, of Leonardo’s mission as it came to life. created 10 years ago.

Davis said the mission when Leonardo began – in the space occupied by the main branch of the Salt Lake City Library from 1964 to 2003, before moving to its current location on Library Square – was “transforming”. Library Square becomes a very active and dynamic community. – space orientation. ”

Another connection a Tribune photographer discovered: With his shaggy beard and white hair surrounding his bald crown, Sanders somewhat resembles the name of the museum, artist, and developer. Renaissance artist Leonardo da Vinci.

In February, as the museum began to reopen, Sanders created a version of his pop-up bookstore, Davis said. The mini shop presents a collection of books about the civil rights movement, which coincides with the museum’s exhibition “Race arrangement.” And Sanders hosted a monthly book club at the museum.

Sanders says that pop-up area will become his shop’s regular space for new books, blending in with the museum’s cafe and gift shop. This space would be a good place to sign autographs and read books, as well as host the occasional book launch party. (Sanders says Leonardo’s best-kept secret, by far, is that it has a state liquor license – something he hopes to take advantage of from time to time.)

Part of the ground floor space will be a children’s book zone, something Sanders, a grandfather of two young children, said he’s always wanted to create. Sanders said he aspires to lead stories that read by length for children. “I’m even planning a secret entrance,” he said.

Sanders will place the used books section of his store in the basement, deploying the fun racks he’s amassed from other bookstores over the years.

It will take a lot of work, clearing out the display items Leonardo has accumulated over the years. Among the oddities storied include a carnival version of Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream,” kiosks praising University of Utah geneticist and Nobel laureate Mario Capecchi, and bust of the late U.S. Senator Jake Garn (since the museum displays the flight suit Garn wore during the 1985 flight on the space shuttle Discovery).

The jewel in Sanders’ store plan, he said, will be the space for his rare book business, in a sub-basement space Leonardo calls “Kiva.” It’s an old reading room from the days of the building that was considered a library, and is now inaccessible.

“This will be the rarest bookstore in the universe, when I’m done,” Sanders said.

The rare book trade has been Sanders’ bread and butter since he opened the shop in 1997, and especially during the pandemic.

“What has always kept me alive is selling premium books to high profile clients and institutions,” says Sanders. Most sales are in the four- and five-figure range, though from time to time, he says, “I sell a Book of Mormon for a hundred thousand, but I can make five thousand on it. [in commission]. ”

‘I’m not ready to quit’

In 2014, Sanders learned that real estate developer Ivory Homes had acquired the half-acre space for his store, along with the nearby corner business. Since then, he has been expecting an announcement that he will need to quit.

A building on the north side of the bookstore, which once housed a beauty salon, was razed last year to make way for another high-rise in downtown Salt Lake City’s booming construction. 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 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 major city had a low-rent district where bookstores as large as his could house multiple shelves. Now, he says, “there is no such thing as a low-rent downtown. They don’t exist. ”

Catherine Weller, co-owner Weller Works Book to her husband, Tony, saying that “what affects Ken is what affects us, and that is the changing face of downtown.”

Weller notes that “in a lot of downtown, the space for a big secondhand bookstore… is evaporating. The scale of the building, the footprint that people need to run such businesses will disappear.”

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

The pandemic, it turns out, give Sanders a temporary pardon from his traveling woes. The landlord offered to defer rent for up to six months, and vowed to help Sanders apply for federal stimulus money. Ultimately, Sanders said, his business received $45,000 in a federal forgivable loan and a $20,000 loan from the city.

A greater support comes from the book lovers themselves. Folk musician Kate MacLeod, an old friend of Sanders’, urged him to start a crowdfunding campaign. It came out on GoFundMe.com on Pioneer Day, July 24.

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

“This is the most overwhelming and humbling project I’ve ever worked on in my life,” Sanders said. “Do you know how long it takes to send a personal email to [2,900] people, to thank them for their contributions? I feel like if they give me money, I should at least say ‘thank you’. “

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

Younger people, he says, “have hundreds of different ways to occupy their time today that didn’t exist when I was a kid. But they are still book lovers. I can’t continue using [copies of Edward Abbey’s] ‘Desert Solitaire,’ or literary classics, in stock. They are reading good stuff. “

Sanders said the GoFundMe campaign was “a mission, if you will, that they want me to keep doing this”.

Not that Sanders is likely to stop. “I should just retire quietly, but that doesn’t suit my temperament,” he said. “I am not ready to quit my job. The thing is, I have too many bloody books.”

https://www.sltrib.com/news/2021/12/08/ken-sanders-move-his/ Ken Sanders moves his eponymous bookstore to The Leonardo

Yasmin Harisha

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