Independent bookstores across Utah celebrate National Independent Bookstore Day on Saturday. Rob Eckman, marketing manager for King’s English Bookshop, said on Tuesday that the uniqueness and careful selection of independent bookshops are among their best qualities. (Ashley Fredde, KSL.com)
Estimated reading time: 4-5 minutes
SALT LAKE CITY – The exterior of King’s English Bookshop resembles the saying “Don’t judge a book by its cover”.
The blue house, with its sloping roof and white windows, may seem quaint, but the winding hallways inside are just as easy to get lost as the books that line them.
Located at 1511 S. 1500 East in Salt Lake City, the building has changed over the years and has ranged from a beauty salon to a pharmacy. Then, in 1977, a group of women trying to write the great American novel bought the house, which slowly became a bookstore by offering a coffee pot, a bell on the door, and eventually books for sale.
“I think selling books is a noble endeavor. This is how people gain education. They gain insights, they gain new perspectives that they wouldn’t have had otherwise,” said Rob Eckman, the bookstore’s marketing manager. “I think the book trade is a very old and respectable business.”
The little blue house slowly grew and merged with the surrounding buildings, an old gas station and a record store. The winding hallways and original bricks of buildings that were previously connected tell the story of the community they served.
“We hear so often that this is exactly what an old crazy bookstore should be. Room and its little stairways and little nooks and nooks and crannies, all just packed with books,” Eckman said. “We’re known for having this great mystery room that’s one of the best in the entire Intermountain West, and our children’s room is also one of the best and most carefully curated.”
Much like the trappings of an old crime novel with hidden rooms and revolving doors, the Mystery Room connects to the restaurant next door. In the children’s reading room, a tree grows to the ceiling with an embedded treehouse made from wood collected by Eckman, beneath the faux foliage is the bookstore’s beloved Bernese Mountain Dog.
For Eckman, the uniqueness and careful selection of independent bookstores are among the best qualities.
“At a regional level, we like to emphasize Western history and things that are really important to our local community, which is what makes independent bookstores so special,” he said. “The curation is very careful and we do a lot of it by hand. We have a few book buyers who are very carefully combing through what’s coming out and by whom.”
Part of the careful curation is a recognition of local authors, a way to embrace the community. Curation also serves as an extension of democracy, Eckman said.
“Bookstores are known as places where you can find anything you want to read. We believe banned books are great books, so come and get a banned book,” he said. “People see independent bookstores as a place of community, not just for the books, but also for the freedom of expression.”
The sharing of ideas and stories is ingrained in society, but Eckman recalled moments from more recently. He told the story of King’s English Bookstore, which remained open on September 11th when the World Trade Center collapsed. As the world watched in horror, some members of the community gathered in the bookstore’s winding halls.
“People needed us, people needed a place. It still gives me chills just thinking about it,” Eckman said. “People needed a place to go and people needed a place to talk.”
The relationship between the bookstore and the community is two-way, Eckman said. As much as the community has needed bookstores, the bookstores need the community, especially as large businesses expand.
“The convenience that’s there really has to be outweighed by the community gravity and community glue that corner shops provide,” Eckman said. “We don’t think that convenience outweighs the importance of local business people. These are the people, their neighborhood structure, corner shops, unique places that you won’t find in big boxes.”
Every dollar spent locally is an investment in the community where the company is located, he added.
For every dollar spent at a local business, $0.55 stays in the community — four times more money than if the same dollar were spent at a national retailer, according to Local First.
To highlight the importance of independent bookstores and celebrate the local community, bookstores like Kings English Bookshop will host events across the state. To see upcoming events, visit your local bookstore’s website.