Nearly 450 rally to help 'save Kepler's'

From elders to toddlers, crowd cheers for Kepler's as passersby honk

Nearly 450 residents of the Menlo Park/Palo Alto area rallied in support of re-opening Kepler's Bookstore in downtown Menlo Park late Tuesday afternoon -- while a steady stream of passing drivers on El Camino Real honked supportive horns.

Afterwards, the crowd trickled over to the Menlo Park City Council chambers, where a much smaller group -- still large enough to overflow the chambers -- heard a purposely vague progress report about an "investors group" that has been meeting to resurrect the bookstore.

Mayor Mickie Winkler pre-empted an announced "work session" with a meeting of the full City Council, called as an "emergency meeting."

Councilwoman Kelly Fergusion, who had spearheaded the rally and meeting, said she has met with the investors group, and that they are evaluating the business. She said it would be inappropriate and perhaps counterproductive for her to reveal their identities at this time.

But she did say it would take a special type of investor -- one who doesn't expect to get much if any return.

At the rally, Ferguson, Winkler and others were cheered repeatedly as they praised the community value of the bookstore, and introduced owner Clark Kepler, who smiled broadly during most of the rally.

Rick Opaterny -- who created the blog on the Internet last Thursday, the day after Kepler's failed to open and Kepler notified the staff that he was facing bankruptcy -- read excerpts from e-mails sent to the blog. One woman recalled how her family turned the bookstore's name into a verb, as in "Let's kepple," or go to Kepler's.

The Palo Alto Weekly and its Web site broke the story of the abrupt closure on Wednesday. On Friday, the Almanac, sister paper to the Weekly, broke the story that some investors had stepped forward and there was a ray of hope Kepler's could be resurrected. The story went national, including the New York Times.

At one point, the crowd was asked how many were Menlo Park residents, and about 30 to 40 percent raised their hands -- they were outnumbered by people from other communities.

One family -- former Menlo Park resident Chris Jacob and her son Alan -- had just arrived from Dublin, Ireland, two hours earlier and came straight to the rally with her older son, Stephen, of San Jose.

Stephen recalled going to Kepler's at age 3 1/2, and Chris said she still has boxes of children's books that were purchased at Kepler's. The sons are now in their mid to late 20s.

One resident, Chuck Bernstein, told the council that the real emergency for the council would be to address the issue of loss of retail business in general due to an anti-business attitude of the council majority. He said the city's sales tax revenues are about half what they were just five or six years ago.

Jay Thorwaldson

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