Bob Harris & Matt Flannery
Tue., June 4
For 57 years, Kepler's Books has been one of the nation’s premier independent bookstores, famous for its outstanding author events, knowledgeable staff, and its broad selection of books, magazines and gifts. Its commitment to the local communities it serves has helped define the cultural identity of the Menlo Park, Atherton, Palo Alto, Redwood City and other San Francisco Bay Area communities that have seen such exceptional growth in the past five-and-a-half decades.
Kepler's was founded in May 1955 by peace activist Roy Kepler. The store soon blossomed into the cultural epicenter it has always remained. It attracted loyal customers from the students and faculty of Stanford University and from other members of the surrounding communities who were interested in serious books and ideas. The Grateful Dead gave live shows there early in their career, and they, along with folk singer Joan Baez, often appeared at Kepler’s sharing ideas at the bookstore with local community leaders.
In 1980, Roy’s son, Clark Kepler, took over the management of the bookstore. Kepler's evolved along with the local community, and in 1989 moved to Menlo Center on El Camino Real, literally at the heart of Menlo Park. As a community hub with varied, high-caliber author events, the bookstore attracted many bestselling writers, local authors and national leaders. Kepler’s was known for the breadth and depth of its inventory, often carrying books that were hard to find elsewhere, and for the talent of its buyers to choose to showcase books that would later become “sleeper” national bestsellers. Kepler's stood apart from its competitors.
In 1990 Publishers Weekly named Kepler’s “Bookseller of the Year.” However, by 1996, it was clear that the bookselling business was being completely changed by the emergence of large discount warehouses and Amazon.com. These changing economic conditions affecting independent bookstores nationwide, and the concomitant internal business problems, caused Kepler’s to close its doors on August 31, 2005--briefly. The local community responded with demonstrations. Thousands gathered on the expanse of what is now known as “Kepler’s Plaza” to express support and protest the loss. Weeks later, with community investment, a flourishing Literary Circle Membership Program and a revived sense of Kepler’s place within Silicon Valley, the bookstore re-opened in October of 2005.
Today Kepler's has once again evolved with it communities and remains a household word in the daily lives of its fiercely loyal customers. It is still a vibrant cultural center, not only offering a vast array of books and continuing its stellar author events but it now also serves a burgeoning population of children and families and has developed a community partner program without equal. A new generation, quite a numerous one, is growing up at Kepler’s youth author events in the store, at the schools, in the parks; and they value what this bookstore brings to their families. The bookstore has also developed a reputation in the past three years as a destination for unique gifts that mirror and target local interest and trends. This new market has been quite successful for Kepler’s. Although there continue to be enormous challenges facing independent booksellers such as Kepler’s, the strength and caring of the local community, and Kepler’s increased commitment to it, is keeping this well-loved bookstore alive and thriving, and continuing to adapt as it heads into its second half century.
Kepler's story is told in the documentary, Paperback Dreams, which aired on PBS. Click the image for more information and to order a copy of the DVD.
Kepler’s was founded in May 1955 by peace activist Roy Kepler.
In 1980, Roy’s son, Clark Kepler, took over management of the bookstore.
Kepler’s evolved along with the local community, and in 1989 moved to Menlo Center on El Camino Real in the heart of Menlo Park.