Editorial: Another rebirth for Kepler's?One of the most difficult jobs a publisher must do is stand by when a longtime friend and business leader loses his grip on profitability and eventually calls it quits.
That is not quite the scenario swirling around Kepler's Books and Magazines, but it's close. Last week Clark Kepler, who has steered this long-time independent bookstore through many bouts of tough times, finally decided to retire and turn over the reins to a young couple who have had some success at rejuvenating booksellers in other communities.
For Clark, Kepler's has always been a labor of love, as he followed in the footsteps of his father, Roy Kepler, who opened the store in 1955. Clark began working at the store in 1979 and was in charge when the new Kepler's opened in Menlo Center in 1989. But even before Amazon came along and ripped the guts out of all independent booksellers, there was price-cutting competition from Borders and other mega stores that could sell books for less than Kepler's could buy them.
When Amazon was launched, at first it seemed like brick and mortar stores had a chance, but as more and more people clicked onto the Internet, and found out how easy and inexpensive it was to buy books online, it was the beginning of the end. As Clark said in last week's story, "We realized six years ago that having good books sitting on shelves waiting for customers to come in wasn't viable."
Another milestone in the life of Kepler's goes back to 2005, when the store abruptly closed but was born again after a huge outpouring of support from the Menlo Park community, enough to raise $1 million from investors who became members of what was called the Patron's Circle and who served as the board of directors.
The store reopened two months later and enjoyed some success, but was forced to make drastic changes in its business model. Although two million books were sold since then, generating millions of dollars in revenue, it still wasn't enough to push forward into 2012.
So with the help of his local "directors" and former Menlo Park resident and entrepreneur Praveen Madan and his wife, Christin Evans, Clark Kepler made the decision to step down and take some time off from the almost impossible challenge of selling real books in a day when the same material is being read on iPads, Nooks and other electronic devices for a fraction of the cost.
The next step for Kepler's will hinge on Mr. Madan and his wife, who have created The Booksmith, an independent bookstore in San Francisco, as well as Berkeley Arts and Letters, an artist and author lecture series. We hope they can continue the long-established tradition of making Kepler's a gathering place for the community.
Clark has promised he will continue to pursue his passion for the Shop Local program advanced by Hometown Peninsula, a group he co-founded several years ago that helps local merchants get their message out and learn new marketing techniques. As someone who has watched how chain stores and mega websites like Amazon destroy local merchants, Clark is an evangelist for Shop Local programs, which help small businesses connect with local residents.
We look forward to hearing about the new plans for Kepler's, as we are reminded by this transition that we must do everything we can to preserve our local merchants or we risk losing a vital part of our community.
— Tom Gibboney