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September 09, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Friday, September 09, 2005

Come together for Kepler's Come together for Kepler's (September 09, 2005)

Residents speak out in support of beloved bookstore

by Bill D'Agostino

Rachel Bolten, a Castilleja School senior, said she and her friends would work at Kepler's for free.

Jan Altman, from the company DrivAd, and Richard Cline offered advertising and public relations help.

And an 11-year-old Hillview Middle School student said he'd hold a school fundraiser.

Those were among the numerous grass-roots offers of support for Kepler's Books -- which abruptly closed last week -- that were publicly expressed during a special Menlo Park City Council meeting Tuesday.

After many speakers presented their offers, the audience applauded. (Early in the meeting, Menlo Park Mayor Mickie Winkler told the audience to refrain from applauding when a speaker criticized the city for driving out local businesses, but Winkler made no such warning concerning speakers who did not disparage the city.)

Before the meeting, a few hundred locals rallied in front of the closed bookstore, many holding signs expressing their love for Kepler's.

"We are not dead yet," the bookstore's owner, Clark Kepler, told the crowd with a smile.

Drivers honked their horns in support as they passed. Another speaker at the hour-long rally was Rick Opaterny, a Google employee who formed www.SaveKeplers.com.

Behind the scenes, a few wealthy, anonymous investors have stepped forward to try to resurrect the bookstore. Menlo Park Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson, who organized the rally and unusual council meeting, said the investors are book lovers who don't expect much of a profit, if any.

The popular independent bookstore reportedly closed due to competition from discount booksellers, the ongoing slide in the local economy and a high monthly rent. Kepler said he has been having "productive" meetings with his landlord, the Tan Group, this week.

"I hope to bring you good news sometime soon," Kepler said.

Former Menlo Park Mayor Gail Slocum told the crowd to send polite letters to the landlord expressing support for the bookstore and to shop locally.

"You are powerful people," Slocum said. "Use your power."

Just as important to Kepler's resurrection would be the community's continuing support of the store, Fergusson said. If it reopens, there will likely be a membership club, she noted.

Roy Kepler, Clark's father and an anti-war activist, opened the store in 1955. Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia and folk music hero Joan Baez were regulars.

The bookstore moved across El Camino Real in 1989 and became known for its author events and knowledgeable employees. Fran Dehn, president and CEO of the Menlo Park Chamber of Commerce, said the relocation represented the second business model for the bookstore.

"Maybe this is the beginning of a third," Dehn said.

Staff Writer Bill D'Agostino can be e-mailed at [email protected]


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