I remember walking into a bookstore as a child and feeling like I was stepping into another world. They were always filled with secret nooks and mazes of dark, book-ridden shelves and hallways. The employees walking the labyrinths were just as mysterious and alluring as the place they wandered. I loved it.
When I started working in Sam Weller's (formerly Zion's Bookstore) a year ago, I was thrilled to see that this bookstore still held the mystery of the world I remembered as a child. Much of its mystique and charm lies in the structure itself. The David Keith Building on Main was built in 1920; since then, it's housed everything from a 1930's, hip bowling alley to Utah's first punk rock venue (The Roxy). There's history all over the walls...you can smell it on the retro-printed carpet. When the building and Sam Weller's met, a long-time love affair was started.
The historic building and Sam Weller's have lived out this union for 50 years. The relationship has seen ups and downs, to say the least; the location made business swell in the 60's and 70's. Sam Weller's was known as Salt Lake's urban bookstore...Sam's respectable reputation even garnered the nickname, "The Mayor of Main Street". But in the 80's, the business started to wane a bit due to its Main Street location. Parking was limited, local shops were being weeded out, and corporations started to invade. People were going elsewhere to shop.
"I remember when people went downtown to shop, where all the good stores were, and they got dressed up to do it!" - Tony Weller (Sam Weller's son)
Tony describes the state of our locally-owned shopping district as 'fractured' (and if anyone has seen the life of local utah, it's Tony). Today, the districts are scattered and limited in size, the largest being 9th & 9th, 15th & 15th, and the Broadway areas. I've witnessed the struggle of Sam Weller's in the short year that I've worked within their walls. The location has led those who usually shop locally to sigh, and ultimately purchase their book elsewhere. It saves time, but not our local economy.
In truth, I'm excited to see my favorite book store move to a place where it can share foot traffic with some of my other favorite, local businesses -- Prana Yoga and Dessert Edge Brewery, to name a couple. This move will offer plenty of customer parking and the convenience/draw of additional shopping. And, although I am little sad to see two pieces of Salt Lake history parting ways, I'm ecstatic about the re-birth of the Sam Weller's Bookstore at Trolley Square. No doubt, Tony and Cat (his wife and business partner) will continue to carry on the spirit and feeling that brought me to my local bookstore when I was a child.
Thanks to Tony, Catherine, and all Sam Weller's employees, past and present, for your invaluable contribution to Salt Lake City culture and history.
Sam Weller's | 254 S Main Street | 801.328.2586