Sam Weller's Looks Beyond Main Street | News | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly


Sam Weller's Looks Beyond Main Street

Internet, economics have downtown bookstore looking for new digs.



Sam Weller's Bookstore, an anchor of Main Street's 200 block through several recessions, is moving, downsizing and selling the building it has occupied for the past 48 years.

Tony Weller, store owner, announced late Thursday a sale beginning Monday to thin shelves for what he anticipates to be a smaller store. "I just can't run a bookstore this size in the current economy," he said.

Weller, the third-generation Weller to operate the business, said he's been thinking of the downsizing move for years, but the past six-months of recession have convinced him the time is now. The book store currently has 22 employees, down from 40 one year ago.

Weller says the store will stay in downtown. He is currently shopping for a building he intends to purchase with proceeds from selling the David Keith Building at 254 South Main. A purchaser has not been found yet, he said.

The Internet has eaten into book sales and sapped business of the casual reader, says Weller, who says he hasn't given up on books, but believes a new experience is needed to interest people in reading again.

"I'm a little daunted by the work that lies ahead, but it's also exciting," he said. "The idea of a blank slate is exciting for me."

"I've watched all across the nation as old book stores have gone out of business and I think big bookstores just don't get the attention we used to get. It's a damn shame for people who love books. [But] the difference between people who love books and the people who like books is substantial."

Weller says the new store won't be based on anything but his own imagination and "recurrent dreams." His plans aren't yet fully formed, but include partnering with other non-book businesses in a new space. Weller says he has asked his two current tenants, Coffee Garden and Scrub Oak Bindery, to move with him.

The move will be the fifth in the bookstore's 80 year history.

Weller's has enjoyed a national reputation for expertise in Western America and Mormon books. It was begun by Tony Weller's German immigrant grandfather in 1929. It was moved in 1961 to its current location, 254 South Main, by Tony Weller's father, the store's namesake, Sam Weller.

Ownership of the Main Street building is divided between Weller's and the Dahle family, which used to run a clothing store next-door. Weller said he believed the building would be marketed as a whole. George Hasenohrl, who opened Keys On Main private club in the old Dahle's space one year ago, said he spoke Sunday to Rob Dahle who had not decided whether to market the Dahle portion of the building for sale.

Hasenohrl said he anticipates Keys On Main will be staying put regardless.

He has a lease and the location has been good.

The Dahle family sold out of the 50-year-old retail clothing store business in summer of 2008 when Casual Male purchased several of the Murray-based business stores.

Alan Hebertson, owner of Coffee Garden, said he will consider moving with Weller's but would like to keep the coffee shop on Main Street, if possible.

"I don't want move toward Gateway, if they go there," he said.

"Weller has given us such an incredible deal on the place. I'm afraid anything else on Main won't be like that," Hebertson said. "I have a good business there. I'm not going to give up. I intend to talk to every landlord up and down Main Street to see what they have available."

Hebertson opened Coffee Garden in the bookstore four years ago while his flagship coffee shop, at 9th and 9th, was being moved across the street and remodeled. The Weller's location got the coffee business through the remodel and preserved Coffee Garden jobs, Hebertson said.

"Unlike some, I don't think books are dinosaurs relegated to extinction," Weller said Thursday. But the change will mean that the days of gong to Sam Weller's and finding anything you are looking for are likely gone. It's hard to run a business when the value of your inventory exceeds annual sales, Weller said.

Editor's note: City Weekly offices are located at 248 S. Main in the David Keith Building, which houses Sam Weller's.

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