The Kepler’s Transition Team, a group of community leaders in and around Menlo Park in the San Francisco peninsula, has been created to launch “Kepler’s 2020” and transform historic Kepler’s Books into a community-owned-and-operated hybrid indie business model that will also include a non-profit element to focus on literary and cultural events.
Clark Kepler, who recently retired after serving his family’s bookstore for over 30 years, has turned the transition reins over to Praveen Madan of Booksmith in San Francisco to lead the volunteer team. “This is a very strategic, long-term project that I hope will get Kepler’s ahead of the curve as an indie bookstore innovator,” Madan says. Because the bookstore has always been known for supporting the community it has served since 1955, “Kepler’s 2020” is using that identity as the cornerstone of its customer surveys, interviews, and workshops to determine how best to launch a capital campaign, the financial goal of which has not yet been determined, for the nonprofit entity. The team will reach out to corporate sponsors, foundations, and individual donors. In addition it hopes to raise $100,000 to support ongoing operations of the bookstore itself.
“I’m very optimistic that we can raise the capital we need,” Madan says. “We’re re-launching Kepler’s Literary Circle Membership Program in February. In the past, members have given anywhere from $50 to $2,500. Kepler’s is critical to keeping Menlo Park together. It means a lot to the community.”
The goal of separating the for-profit bookstore from the nonprofit organization is to maintain Kepler’s profitability while highlighting the community’s opportunity to support educational and literary programs through tax-deductible contributions. Although the two organizations will exist as separate entities, they will team up to foster civic engagement and intellectual discourse around books.
The innovations under consideration for Kepler’s include publishing-on-demand capabilities, an in-store e-book friendly browsing experience, a speaker’s bureau that welcomes emerging authors, and a “concierge service” focused on bringing readers together. Madan’s Booksmith has been offering book swaps for the last two years, and they will be incorporated into Kepler’s new format. “These are themed, ticketed events that facilitate literary matchmaking,” Madan says. “The price of the ticket includes food, drinks, and a discount in the store. Attendees bring one book to discuss in a small-group setting, and at the end everyone can choose one of these books to take home. The book swaps fill a need – to meet new people.”
Madan is bullish on open source innovations. “If it’s a good idea, it should be given away. Things like this can be the secret sauce stores have been waiting for to revitalize themselves,” he says. A half dozen stores in the Bay Area have started their own book swaps, and now Kepler’s will provide them as well.
“This is not a purchase,” Madan emphasizes; “it’s a conversion of Kepler’s to a two-fold cooperative. Anyone can buy shares. We’re turning the store over the community to be the new owners.” The Kepler’s 2020 transition team will also serve as an advisory board. They include Steve Piersanti of Berrett-Koehler Publishers, former Menlo Park mayor Gail Slocum, communications consultant Patrick Corman, and Mitch Slomiak, CFO of Kepler’s. “This is a chance for me to work with the best, smartest people in the field,” says Madan. The bookstore will retain the name of Kepler’s.
After Clark Kepler retires he will participate in the transformation project as Kepler’s board chair and member of the transition team. In light of Kepler's business challenges, Clark, according to Madan, has agreed to transfer his ownership interest in Kepler Corporation into the new community-owned model without any financial compensation for himself.