Left Bank Books in St. Louis, which has two locations – the 4,500-square-foot flagship store in the city’s Central West End area that has been in its current retail space since 1977, and a 5,500-square-foot downtown location that has been in operation for five years – is closing the downtown location as of May 31. The 45-year-old bookstore's co-owner, Jarek Steele, told PW that the downtown location has lost money since it opened in December 2008; he and co-owner Kris Kleindienst were unable to negotiate a better lease with the building’s landlord and thus must shut the store down when the current lease is up. “We gave it a good run, but it didn’t work out,” Steele said, “If we could have negotiated a better lease, it would have been a different situation.”
Kleindienst added that the downtown store “was growing every year, but not enough where it was paying for itself.”
Left Bank Books’ flagship store in the Central West End area is unaffected by the downtown store’s closing. There will be no layoffs among the 21 full and part-time Left Bank Books employees, as only two or three at a time staffed the downtown location, except during special events.
Steele said, however, that there may be some cuts in hours for part-time employees after May 31. He also anticipates that there will be some “natural attrition” as some employees return to school in the fall. “We’re working really hard to keep everybody,” Steele said, describing sales at the Central West End flagship store as “holding steady,” with successful on-site and offsite programming and more corporate sales.
Kleindienst and Steele haven’t given up on either downtown or on a second location, either: the two are considering an expansion of the Central West End location, and/or opening a new location, either in a different part of downtown or in another St. Louis neighborhood. The two booksellers are also considering opening either a coffee bar or wine/beer bar inside the Central West End store.
“We’re focusing on getting the transition done before we turn our attention to the next five years,” Kleindienst said, “We’re going to add services. If it makes the most sense [later on] to open another second location, then we’ll do it. We understand how to run a second store. “
Left Bank Books was founded in 1969 and run as a collective until 1977, when Kleindienst, who started working there in 1974, assumed ownership, along with Barry Leibman. Steele, who has worked at the store since 2002, became a co-owner in 2006. Leibman retired in 2010, leaving Steele and Kleindienst as the two co-owners.