News

Kepler's to charge for author events

 

Starting this month, Kepler's bookstore in Menlo Park will charge those who don't belong to its rewards program to attend author events.

Owner Clark Kepler said in a newsletter that as book sales drop, publishers are reluctant to send authors on tours.

The price of admission? Either one $10 Kepler's gift card, or the purchase of the event book from Kepler's prior to the event, along with the receipt. Both options cover admission for two people.

The bookstore is also creating a dedicated event space, named "The Roy Kepler Pavilion" in honor of its founder.

Comments

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Posted by Amy
a resident of another community
on Apr 5, 2011 at 12:18 pm

Great idea; makes sense. Anything to keep our treasured Kepler's around.


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Posted by Kindle Lover
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Apr 5, 2011 at 12:46 pm

No wonder Book Stores are dying. With an attitude like that, Keplers has just reinforced my dislike of the store and its snotty attitude.


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Posted by MK
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Apr 5, 2011 at 12:52 pm

I agree with Amy.
Would also be great if Kepler's could get a younger audience to attend some of these wonderful events. I went to one with my 25 year old daughter, (an English major an avid reader), she throughly enjoyed
it. As we were leaving she remarked "there's no one here under 40, what a shame."
Perhaps a reach out to the local high schools or the English department at Stanford, or departments that are appropriate to the book topic, economics, conservation, social studies, etc. Give a heads up to any other organization that would be interested.


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Posted by swalton208@cs.com
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Apr 5, 2011 at 1:39 pm

We choose to support Kepler's and bought a membership in the Rewards program so we could continue hearing the stimulating authors that come to town.


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Posted by JG
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 5, 2011 at 3:33 pm

Kepler's has been a community center for scores of years, and I for one hope it can continue. I have no problem being charged to attend a lecture by an author--just as I'm happy to pay for the fine Celebrity Forum lectures. And I applaud Kepler's for thinking creatively how to make the most of its space. May we all enjoy Kepler's for many years to come.


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Posted by Mara
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Apr 5, 2011 at 10:05 pm

I'm not excited about this. Pre-purchases weren't previously allowed, now I have to save my receipts in case an author shows up? Why did I join Kepler's bail-out club when Clark couldn't manage the business he got from Roy?
If I decide to pay, again, I'd prefer to pay $5 per person instead of $10 per pair. Since not all of us are paired, this feels discriminatory. What do you lawyers think? After being an active and loyal customer since 1963, this is enough to keep me out of Kepler's.


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Posted by jj
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 6, 2011 at 12:30 am

This doesn't make sense to me.

1. If the publishers don't want to send authors to speak at Kepler's, they'll make that decision regardless of how many memberships or gift cards Kepler's sells. Neither of those directly impacts sales of that author's books. So, it seems that this is really just a way for Kepler's to make more money. (That's FINE, by the way, but let's call a spade a spade and not point fingers at the publishers.)

2. I often purchase the book at the END of the author's presentation _IF_ my interest has been piqued. I regard the events as opportunities for the author to sell me on why I should I pay ~$25 to own the full book. Forcing me to buy the book beforehand defeats the purpose. (I have to believe that the publishers and booksellers also expect these events to drive book sales. They are NOT purely community-enrichment events, even if some in the audience treat them as such.) Events also bring me into the store. While I'm there I will browse and perhaps buy something else entirely.

3. Many other bookstores still offer free events. For $10 it may be worth my while to go to another bookstore out of town. Stanford also offers many free events (Guy Kawasaki, for a recent example). While I'm at that other bookstore, I'm sorry to say I'll likely buy from them instead of Kepler's.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 6, 2011 at 8:28 am

This is exactly how business is supposed to work.

Mr. Kepler decides he wishes to charge his customers for providing a service to them. Some customers will accept paying for that service and Mr. Kepler will make a bit more money. Some customers will resent being charged, take their business elsewhere and Mr. Kepler will lose some money.

The market will ultimately decide if Mr. Kepler has made a good business decision or not... as it should.


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Posted by Antonia Squire
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 6, 2011 at 1:39 pm

As the General Manager here at Kepler's I would like to take a moment to respond to some of the comments posted here. Kepler's has a long history as a place for community discussion and it's great to see that tradition continuing online.

1) We hear from our customers every single day how much they value the Author Series at Keplers. In the last six months alone we brought Jimmy Carter, Salman Rushdie, Barbara Kingsolver, Suzanne Collins, Anthony Horowitz, Simon Winchester, Amy Sedaris, Harold McGee, Michael Krasny and Mary Roach among many others to Menlo Park. At most of our events we have seen sell through drop to an average of 15%. Much of our audience is bringing a book purchased elsewhere and getting the author to sign it at Kepler's. Our friends at book stores across the country report the same phenomenon. It is simply unsustainable.

2) We know people like options and this is exactly why we came up with the gift card idea. If, after hearing the author, your interest is piqued you can use the gift card to buy the author's book. If, on the other hand, what you heard isn't your cup of tea you can spend your gift card on something else. This too helps offset the cost of the Author Series.

3) As the Children's Buyer (as well as GM) I was particularly struck by Amy's comment about young people. We host many events for kids and teens, and I see on a regular basis the level of excitement these authors inspire.

Ultimately we run a great program that we want to maintain, but we're not breaking even on it. We know our customers value this program and we are doing everything we can to keep these authors coming to our community.

(btw, Joyce Carol Oates will be here tonight, Billy Collins is coming tomorrow - hope to see you then)

Thanks,

Antonia


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Posted by jj
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 6, 2011 at 2:28 pm

I'm curious to know what these events cost Kepler's. Does the bookstore incur a direct cost beyond the cost of stocking inventory of the specific book, or does the publisher pay (as was implied) for the author to travel and speak?


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Posted by Interested
a resident of another community
on Apr 6, 2011 at 2:57 pm

"As the General Manager here at Kepler's I would like to take a moment to respond to some of the comments posted here. Kepler's has a long history as a place for community discussion and it's great to see that tradition continuing online."

Hey Antonia, forget about "Community discussion". How much discussion was there when Keepler locked out his employeees when the business was failing. The answer is NONE. There were pictures in the Almanac of employees turning up for work only to find the doors locked........

But I digress. Since your interested in sharing with us the details of the business, perhaps you will share with us how much it costs Keepler to have an author appear in an attempt to sell their book.....
I shall wait with baited breath........


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 6, 2011 at 3:15 pm

The primary purpose of any business is to make money. If the business performs a "community service" - at least in the eyes of some people - that's fine. There is nothing intrinsically sacred about selling books, wine or hot dogs. It's having people part with those green pieces of paper in their pocket (read: money) that counts.

Like every business, Kepler's is there - first and foremost - to make money.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 6, 2011 at 3:23 pm

Once a business loses a customer it is very difficult to get them back. I used to special order at least one book a week at Kepler's. When they refused to set up a system for frequent special order people so I did not have to fill out the same name, address, phone number info each time I ordered a book I switched to Amazon and seldom step into Kepler's today.

Charging fees for author events will NOT attract new customers and may well discourage existing customers. I doubt that Kepler's will make more than they lose on this charge.


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Posted by Antonia Squire
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 6, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Well, the actual cost of events varies upon size, but here is a brief description of the moving parts.

Starting about 6 months before the author sets foot in the store we receive, from all the different publishers, a list of writers they are thinking of touring in an upcoming season. Our head buyer (for the adult authors) and I (for the Kids’ Authors) prioritize these lists for our respective event managers and provide the information they will need to write proposals (sales of previous books, previous attendance if we have hosted the author before). The event managers then write proposals for the authors we want to come to Kepler’s complete with estimated attendance, media outlets and anything else we feel will set Kepler’s apart from other venues in the entire bay area, which stretches from Napa to Santa Cruz and far out into Contra Costa County. The proposal for each author is unique which means we are writing 400+ proposals a year. Publishers rarely send an author to more than 3 locations within an area, often it is only 1, so we have a lot of competition for events including paid venues such as City Arts and Lectures and The Commonwealth Club. This happens three times a year for all of the major publishers and their imprints. We get approximately 50-60% of the authors we bid on.

From 3 to 1 month before the author arrives at the store is the booking process, and many of these events come to us simultaneously and so we have constant maintenance of the calendar to make sure we do not double book ourselves. If we have an adult author and kids author only available on the same night but we feel that both are of high interest to our customers, we find an alternate venue for one of the events, but that only happens 5 or 6 times a year.

Once the Author is booked, our event managers start to promote the event. We do this through the regular media outlets (KQED, Chronicle, Merc, Almanac etc). Our event managers write copy for each individual event which we then publish on our website, our Print Newsletter, our e-newsletters, social media and in store. Our graphic designer creates posters and flyers which we then distribute in store and to organizations within the communities we feel may be interested in each individual event, be they schools, universities, not-for-profit organizations, law firms, biotech companies etc. We go where our audience is.

As the event nears, a staff person who will host the event reads the book and writes an introduction. On the day of the event we move the tables, set up chairs, and depending on the size of the event, lay on extra staff to ensure that everything runs smoothly for both the author and the audience. The host introduces the author and then helps to keep the signing line moving smoothly. For large events this requires far more than just the host; Jimmy Carter for example required eight additional staff members to our regular evening staff, Anthony Horowitz required an additional 5.

Oh, and I forgot we must order the books, receive the books, display the books and sell the books.

Multiply that by the 200+ events we do a year, it adds up.


Like this comment
Posted by WB
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Apr 6, 2011 at 11:04 pm

Some misinformation, some questions/thoughts.

First, misinformation:
** Clark did NOT lock out his employees the day the store closed. All employees were asked to come to the store for a meeting that morning and were welcomed inside. It was then announced that the store was closed and why. And everyone was paid right away. No employee was locked out. Even if it was in the Almanac.

** If a book is available to the public before an event, a Kepler's customer has always been able to purchase it and bring it to the event. Sometimes books are not available to the public before an event because of a publisher specifying the exact date it can be displayed. And yes, save the receipt because NO bookstore hosting an author wants him/her to sign a book that was purchased through Amazon, B&N, or even another independent. Yes, Kepler's does need to continue to make money so they can afford to buy the books they have in the store for us all to browse and enjoy and, hopefully, buy.

Second, questions/thoughts:
** Will the fee apply to childrens' events as well? If so this is a shame and will cause havoc for a parent bringing several children, including friends. If 1 parent brings her 3 children and a grandparent, how much must she pay?

** I am dismayed that Kepler's did not just say they need to charge because of the cost of bringing authors to the store, because this is clearly the reason why and, as Antonia explained, bringing in an author isn't 'free'. Gift cards and memberships will not benefit the publisher of the featured author's book unless the gift card is later used to buy that particular book. And one has to wonder why the other bookstores are not charging for author events at their stores.

** Most disturbing to me is that the space is being named in honor of Roy Kepler "who founded Kepler's almost 56 years ago with the vision of creating a gathering space for ideas, literature and writers"(quote is from the Kepler's website). I think he would be very upset that this cherished space requires an admission fee.

It will be very sad if we lose Kepler's for good, but I don't think this decision will drive the sales they need. I hope I'm wrong.


Like this comment
Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2011 at 12:29 am

A rather arrogant decision, especially given the "couple" aspect.

After the community has bailed Kepler's out & constantly rallies around it, customers have to pay more than is comfortable for many of us to hear an author whose books we may/may not want to buy. This makes libraries & Amazon & M is for Mystery, etc. even more attractive. I can use the $$ I'd spend at Kepler's as donations to the local libraries & gas $$ to drive to more distant stores which don't charge.

I've been a Kepler's customer for 45 years & in the last few years feel disenfranchised & a bit unwelcome. I would feel better about this decision if the Kepler's customer service had gotten better instead of worse, as I've experienced on several occasions in the last few years. Sometimes community "treasures" don't shine as bright up close. Good luck.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2011 at 10:56 am

The negative posts here are really disturbing. Is this the community that recently posted such sad comments about closing businesses on Santa Cruz Ave.??? Note that they closed because they weren't making enough money to keep running.

The community rallied to keep Kepler's here a few years ago, and the challenge to do that has not -- and will not -- go away. Kepler's Bookstore is a huge community resource, and it is a business. They have expenses. The staff needs to get paid. AND Kepler's is a giant cultural and intellectual asset -- not to mention that going there is just plain fun.

We are a well-to-do, educated community and are blessed to have this business in our community.

Just JOIN KEPLER'S for heaven's sake!!! You can join for as little as $50 and get entrance to all of the author's events, discounts, etc. and you help keep Kepler's here.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Park book reader
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 7, 2011 at 12:53 pm

Some posts here assert that "The primary purpose of any business is to make money". If true, it is a sad commentary on our culture. Why can't the primary purpose of a business be to provide things that people want, to enrich the community, or just to have fun? I think that if businesses focused on goals like these, they'd find themselves making money. And if not, they might want to find something else to do. When everything is valued by its monetary worth, we all become poorer.

Whether Kepler's can survive without charging for author talks, I don't know (I'm not naive about business--I'm self-employed myself). Author events are designed to attract people from the community, generating both book sales and good will--the kind of good will that led me and many others to rally behind Kepler's when a landlord was forcing them out of business. (Publishers wouldn't spend lots of money on book tours if they didn't increase book sales.) It's hard to see (except perhaps for those who are so wealthy that they have lost touch with the rest of us) how charging for these events will compensate for the loss of business and good will from community members who have supported Kepler's until now. I need some justification for paying twice as much at Kepler's for a book that I could buy elsewhere. I feel like Kepler's is eroding that justification.


Like this comment
Posted by baffled
a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Apr 7, 2011 at 1:32 pm

I'm baffled.
"Some posts here assert that "The primary purpose of any business is to make money". If true, it is a sad commentary on our culture. Why can't the primary purpose of a business be to provide things that people want, to enrich the community, or just to have fun? ... When everything is valued by its monetary worth, we all become poorer.
Really? It's just so hard to know what to say to this. Of course Kepler's wants to provide things that people want, they DO enrich the community and have been doing so for years, and I'm sure they assume people will have fun at their events. I know I've enjoyed some of them tremendously, as have my kids (who are still talking about Anthony Horowitz). But they are not a non-profit. The people who work there are not volunteers. And the property owner wants to get paid too, as I'm sure does Clark Kepler. And whereas I wish they hadn't made this decision, I'm sure it was not an easy one to make. And why would you prefer to spend the money on gas driving elsewhere - or on postage to ship it to you - than on the book you've heard a favorite author speak about? If we don't patronize the stores and restaurants we want to keep, we can't be surprised when they disappear. And that is the sad commentary on our culture.


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Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Apr 7, 2011 at 1:43 pm

Menlo Park reader asks:"Why can't the primary purpose of a business be to provide things that people want, to enrich the community, or just to have fun?"

That can be the primary purpose of a business PROVIDED that it ALSO makes money - otherwise it is not a business. Apple is a good example of a company that provides people what they want and it makes money, as does Amazon.


Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Park book reader
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Apr 7, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Dear Baffled,

Please read beyond the first paragraph of my last posting.

To sum up: By charging for author events, Kepler's may be converting itself from the type of place worth saving to just another book store. It may be damaging the very thing that we have been trying to save.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 7, 2011 at 6:03 pm

Baffled or Menlo Park Book Reader -

You said," Some posts here assert that "The primary purpose of any business is to make money". If true, it is a sad commentary on our culture. Why can't the primary purpose of a business be to provide things that people want, to enrich the community, or just to have fun? I think that if businesses focused on goals like these, they'd find themselves making money."

Your final five words make my point perfectly. If a business loses money, they won't be a business for long! As a self-employed person, you should know that quite well. You CAN stay in business doing nice things but you WON'T stay in business because you do nice things.

Menlo Voter: ANY business that remains in business is, by definition, "provid(ing) people what they want. Buying an iPad is no more sacred than getting a tattoo, a lawn mower or your nails painted. Satisfaction is exclusively up to the person exchanging their money for the goods. If they find value in the goods, that's really all that counts.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Apr 7, 2011 at 7:59 pm

I repeat -- We need to support Kepler's to keep Kepler's, so just join Kepler's.

$50 buys you a lot of entertainment for an entire year of authors' events, as well as special discounts and programs.




Like this comment
Posted by wcs
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 8, 2011 at 12:59 pm

We are lucky we have a one-of-a-kind bookstore here - or any bookstore at all, for that matter. Bookstores are failing right and left. All businesses must make money to survive...by all means, let's pay them for this valuable service they provide!


Like this comment
Posted by wcs
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 8, 2011 at 1:06 pm

I don't know if everyone is aware of it...but Keplars also brings young reader author events to the Menlo Park Library. They partner with our public library - which is, as part of the City, plagued with budgetary challenges. These events are frequently very good. I take my 8 year old to them whenever I can. I would even pay for those events if asked. They are that valuable to our family and our community.


Like this comment
Posted by Mara
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Apr 8, 2011 at 3:01 pm

Neighbor repeats the push to just "pay $50 a year" to support the store. Others say it was to be forced out by a greedy landlord.

Not true. Every lease comes up for renewal. Property owners aren't known as philanthropies, but a business. Clark, unlike Roy, chose to rent very expensive, upscale space in a very high-profile location, with what has proven to be inadequate parking. When the lease came up for renewal, it was clear that the bookstore's business model wouldn't support the increased cost >close the store >sell memberships. Boo hoo.

Fine. Charge for author events. How about $5 per adult head, refundable if you buy the book? How about fewer events? Cut the ones that don't draw big audiences. What's this nonsense about people bringing books bought elsewhere for signing? No. Was never allowed, anywhere.

Antonia & Clark: Yes, get more $ by this odd paying admission policy, but 'fess up & be clear. Maybe your business model needs to be adjusted again to reflect current economic conditions which might make this new policy less than attractive to some customers.

Good luck. Time'll tell if this new idea is a good one or not.



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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 8, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Yes, time will tell if this is a good idea or not.

Just a quick perspective. Small "mom and pop" book sellers, stores that often passed from generation to generation, complained when businesses like Kepler's opened. Surely these larger stores would put the little guys out of business. Kepler's complained when discounters like Barnes and Noble, Crown and Borders came to town. They, in turn, complained when big box stores like WalMart and Costco decided to sell heavily discounted books. And they complained when Amazon sold without the high cost of a retail presence at all. Amazon will suffer if someone (other than Amazon, of course) improves the model to electronic versions downloaded directly to a Kindle or iPad.

That's the cycle of retail business - one store's demise is another's opportunity. It's why you don't see many vinyl record stores anymore.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2011 at 6:34 pm

Can you meet with authors at Costco, WalMart, Kindle, or IPad? Do those book sellers sponsor free reading groups for local folks to meet-up with each other to discuss books? Do they have special programs for children? This makes Kepler's so special and really wonderful.

Is $50 annually to support these services really too much for you? Consider skipping something small to support your community.

A $50 membership is an investment in restoring positive energy in the community. Lately discussions on these pages and on PaloAltoOnline contain some very selfish whining and personal attacks from a citizens in a town that is so blessed with resources (even these days).

The terrific community vibe is one reason I moved to the Peninsula. It's really sad how it's starting to disintegrate.

Have you forgotten how we rallied a few years ago to save Kepler's -- we need to keep up that support.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 8, 2011 at 7:24 pm

I'm not arguing with you, Neighbor.

No, I don't think you can meet authors at Costco, WalMart, Kindle, or IPad. And, apparently, that matters a lot to you because you are willing to pay $50 for that kind of access. If there are enough people who agree with you, then Kepler's new plan will be a huge success. If there are not enough people who are willing to do this, then Kepler's will go the way of home delivered milk and green stamps.

While I suppose I like Kepler's as much as the next person, even if it fails, it will not be disintegration - any more than any other change in Menlo Park represents disintegration. It represents change. Whether change is positive or negative is a completely subjective call. Some people like to buy books, some people like to buy Chevrolets.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2011 at 9:12 pm

One sees a lot more Mercedes than Chevrolets in Menlo Park.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2011 at 11:16 pm

Maybe Neighbor, who thinks $50 isn't too much, will find it in their heart & wallet to buy some of these "affordable" memberships w/all their bennies, for those less fortunate & unable to spend $50 on a membership to anything these days? $50 all at once is still $50 all at once. Really, Menlo doesn't have more Mercedes than Chevies, or maybe it does, but the Mercedes are not the majority of car - & not all Kepler's customers are from Menlo. Many of the customers are lifelong peninsula residents who rent, live paycheck to paycheck or on fixed incomes as seniors, or are post docs who love to read or have been laid off & living on unemployment but still want to support a local bookstore...

Seriously, Neighbor, many of Kepler's supporters aren't wealthy or even well off.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2011 at 11:18 pm

BTW, I loved your post, Mara. I also appreciate POGO's insight, as always, even though I don't agree w/it. I always thought this Kepler's location wsa too expensive to support it. Sheesh, I recall the days when gen-u-wine local radicals shopped at the old location, which was more crammed, friendlier & frankly, not so full of itself.


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 9, 2011 at 1:17 am

My reference that some people might like to buy Chevrolets was to the departure of Anderson Chevrolet. I presume politicians in desperate need of tax revenues would call their exit a real loss to their community, too.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on Apr 9, 2011 at 8:30 am

Msg. to Hmmm:
I am what you would definitely call elderly, am retired in Redwood City, would never even make it to live in Menlo Park or Palo Alto. Specifically, I live on Social Security (only), and I drive an 8 year old Toyota.

But I joined Kepler's at the $50 level, when I was moved by the community's pleas to save the store a few years ago. Have never regretted supporting this community gem.

I also go to movies, Starbucks, etc. We can all find a little $$ to rearrange in our budget to support what we believe in in the community. And, everyone -- including students, knows how to rearrange priorities to get at least some of their priorities. Having earned my Ph.D. at 40 as a single parent, I know that.

If you opt not to support Kepler's fine....just don't give those nonsense excuses


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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Apr 9, 2011 at 10:53 am

These aren't nonsense excuses, Neighbor.

If you want to spend $50 at Kepler's to hear authors, that's your decision. If I want to spend my $50 at the opera or buying ice cream, that's mine.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of another community
on Apr 9, 2011 at 10:51 pm

Indeed. One person's nonsense excuse is another person's reality. I told my elderly mother, on a fixed income about all this & she thought the $50 was nonsense -& she's shopped at Kepler's for decades. Only now, of course, she can't afford to live in the area, she shops there only when visiting, for special occasions.

The other issue is prioritizing interests - not to mention bills. There're still a lot of folks w/out jobs in the area, people who've lost their homes & have tightened their belts in many ways. For them, they may choose to pay for an author event only if they have someone to go with, & specific events so they don't have to plunk down $50 for the membership.

I've been to a lot of author events & am a big reader. But I must say, after awhile, the author events seem to run together because they are so similar.

Bottom line, for me, that even as a realist, this smacks of biting the hand that feeds.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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