Congratulations to Left Bank Books, St. Louis, Mo., which celebrated its 50th anniversary last Friday. The day before, Left Bank posted on Facebook: "Attention! It is our birthday! While we won't be celebrating the night away until October, July 11th marks 50 years since we first opened that first door on Skinker. We've been through a lot since then, and we'd like to thank all of you for being here with us."
Citing the classic business advice "location, location, location," West End Word reported that "eight years after it opened, Left Bank Books moved to the corner of McPherson and Euclid avenues in 1977 and became a cherished fixture in the burgeoning historic Central West End neighborhood.... The shop has thrived as a vibrant community hub and stayed true to its activist mission."
Co-owner Kris Kleindienst, "who was hired as a clerk in 1974, had scraped together $1,000, along with fellow employees Barry Leibman and Justin James, to buy out the bankrupt owners collective. Now in her 45th year [with the store], she continues to lead into the 21st century along with her partner and husband, Jarek Steele, who has been there 17 years," West End Word wrote.
"We are not just the past. We are the future. I refuse to be put into a coffin," Kleindienst said. "We have a unique identification. We've hung on because we're something familiar. You know what you're going to get when you come here. I also feel that we must earn that loyalty every day. I don't take it for granted."
|Kris Kleindienst (r.) and staffers show off their anniversary gear.
Kleindienst offered high praise for Left Bank's booksellers: "We have a strong staff. It's community, it's a safe space. They are very supportive. They're a really great group of people.... A human being answers the phone and if they can't help, they get another person to help a customer. It's basic hospitality. They have individual expertise, so we try to find the right person to help. They're like research librarians."
In a detailed profile of the bookshop, St. Louis magazine noted that Kleindienst "had no idea she'd spend her life finding books that would patch the holes in people's souls, smash open windows in their minds, bring them out of musty apartments into a welcoming community."
At Left Bank, tradition blends fluidly with adaptation: "There's this new generation of folks who are taking over or starting stores," Kleindienst said, "and the phrase they are using is 'mission-based.' They're talking about doing things that are social justice–oriented, of being mindful of the communities they serve.... I think people want authenticity. The age of computer screens is morally and spiritually bankrupting, and people are lonely. We need the serendipity of stumbling on things, of saying, 'I went here, and this thing happened to me.' Nothing ever happens to you on a computer screen, and nobody cares who you are."
Co-owner Steele agreed: "Amazon can tell you what happened in the past; a bookstore can predict what might happen in the future. I like to think we're becoming more important. This has to do with the way truth is being handled at this moment. Somebody can come into this bookstore and find a lot of different ideas, not just surface social media headline sorts of ideas. People have to have a quieter, more focused, in-person physical space to do that. And actual human connection is more important now than ever."
Green Apple Books in San Francisco, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2017, tweeted: "Our heartiest birthday wishes to our friends @LeftBankBooks in St. Louis on the 50th anniversary! Welcome to the geezer-bookstore club!"