A Look at 45 Years of Left Bank Books

Whenever we interview prospective booksellers, we always do the two-minute gallop through the “history of the bookstore.”  When I was interviewed for my job here, Barry did the honors.  He talked about the group of Washington University students who summoned their collective resources (their own book collections and $500) and opened a tiny place where you could find “controversial” literature – which, in St. Louis c.1969 included Rolling Stone Magazine. Kris and Rachel listened along with me, both having heard this story several million times.  I’m sure their minds wandered, but I was rapt.

The story wound its way to the present, stopping occasionally to visit the high points (visits by Jimmy Carter, William Burroughs and others) and low points (perpetual money troubles, the invasion of chain bookstores in the 90’s) and even though I was already a fan of the store, I found myself falling deeply, irrevocably in love with it.

The two minute summary of Left Bank Books’ history does as much justice to it as reciting each state in the US does to the complex history of how they got there.  Great triumphs like winning the lawsuit against the publishers for violating the Robinson Patman Act bump against controversies like turning down a book event with Henry Kissinger. Small miracles like rescuing a kitten from the pond at Forest Park blossom into Left Bank Books traditions like housing a two more black kittens after him.

It’s a story of optimism, literacy, advocacy, bravery and above all, kindness.  Those traits that I (and our customers) love about this store are what we aspire to be.  They are what we are when we are our best selves.

Our booksellers create much of the magic here.  They hand sell their favorite books.  They raise money for our 501c3 Foundation which provides books to kids in underprivileged schools. They travel around the area and sell books at our over 300 author events per year. One of our former employees once lamented that even though she is happy in her new job after having moved away, it “lacks the I have an idea so I’ll walk to the other side of the basement and we’ll make awesome happen stat vibe.”

In the twelve years since my interview, I’ve devoted my resources and my career to the stewardship of this place and have, in the company of my partner and co-workers, seen it through more triumphs (Harry Potter festivals, the opening of a second store) and more struggles (still perpetual money trouble, Amazon, the closing of the second store).  I have grown into an adult here, have transitioned from female to male here, have met and married my partner here and have had the most fun and the most stress here.

We all have yet to meet the next person to change our lives.  For some, that person will walk through our front door, and making that opportunity possible is the best reason to be hopeful for our future.

Kris Kleindienst at our front door 1983 and 2014
Kris Kleindienst at our front door 1983 and 2014

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