A report on Sam Weller's bookstore for my blog including an interview with Tony Weller.
“The oldest books are still only just out to those who have not read them.”
Sam Weller's Zion Bookstore
((I was supposed to have this report finished last week but I had a few problems with the site that had to be fixed before normal posting could resume. I hope my readers will forgive me for taking so long in getting it to them.))
Type of business: Bookstore
Specialty: Used and Rare Books
Est: Aug 11, 1929
Founder: Gustav Weller
Current Owner: Tony Weller
Address: 254 South Main Street, Salt Lake City, Ut 84101 (they will be moving around Christmastime)
Phone Number: (801)328-2586
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 10 am to 7 pm.
Thank you again for coming. Todays report will be the first in the section I promised to create on local businesses. In this section I will be covering small businesses, groups and charities that are owned and operated right here in the Salt Lake Valley.
It is my belief that the best way for us to save our economy is to put more into our locally owned businesses rather than continuing to send our hard earned money to out of state and even out of country markets. I suppose I could write a whole blog about such a subject, berating myself and others for their visits to national chains and lecture on how that is damaging the economy – and I suppose several others have – but I think I would prefer to instead become part of the solution by helping to bring to the lime light those stores and manufacturers based right here, to educate myself and others on how to find those elusive gems hidden just beyond the tips of our fingers. As I write I hope my local readers will be helpful in pointing out to me any local businesses that I may not be aware of that would benefit from being featured in my blog.
I am pleased to be able to open this section with a fond memory of my childhood – Sam Weller's Zion Book store – known to the locals here as Sam Weller's, Sam's, Weller's or simply Zion's. Unfortunately Sam himself died earlier this year in June. I remember buying books from him, how disappointed he was when he didn't have the book you wanted and how excited he would get when he finally found that book for you – no matter how long it took.
Like his father Gustav, Sam was a true gift to the book world he is sorely missed. I can say with assurance that one of the most influential used bookstores in the world is Sam Weller's – as Utahans we are very lucky to have such a wonderful store in our community. If someone were to ask me what that most important bookstore I knew of in the world was I would be lying if I did not tell them it was Weller's. Sam Weller's Zion Book Store has no other physical location other than the store on Salt Lake City's Main Street but it's influence is known world wide. If you bought an old rare book on-line there is a very good chance that at some point it passed through the hands of someone at Sam Wellers Zion Bookstore – and if it has not, well then perhaps it will end up on the shelves there, just waiting to be cherished again.
Sam's son Tony has taken over ownership of the store and he seems to be doing his best to keep the dreams of Gus Weller alive. He has been kind enough to let me interview him about the bookstore and his own personal take on the modern book market.
I would like to take the time to give you a little history, but the history of what it's founder often referred to as 'just a country bookstore' has been told and retold several times. So instead I will refer you to their website at http://www.samwellers.com/store_history where you can read about the store in the words of Tony Weller, grandson of Gus Weller, Son of Sam Weller and current owner of the store.
I will confess that the history of a store as important as Sam Weller's Zion Bookstore is relevant but in this report I hope to shed light on the current bookstore as it is today. Stepping into Sam Wellers is like stepping through a portal. On the main level you are greeted by the cashier who checks your bag for you if you are carrying one. To your left you find the coffee garden which, if you like coffee, or even hot chocolate, you are sure to find yourself sitting at – just as soon as you secure ownership of that perfect book. The focus of this level is new books, mostly the latest publications but mixed with new printings of old classics.
On the main level you will see two sets of stairs – one going up and one going down. Descend down into the basement and you find yourself transported back a few years and surrounded by shelf upon shelf of used novels. It is mainly paperbacks down here, anything from a cheaply printed classic that was read and then sold to a penny or dime novel originally that as originally sold at some supermarket or other. Here you will also find a comfortable lounge in which to sit and relax as you browse through the piles of books trying to decide which one to take home.
Go up the stairs instead and you will find yourself transported even further back in time, perhaps as far back as one can be transported by a book store. Inhale deeply, smell the leather, the old paper and the ink. Here is the Mezzanine and what I come to know as 'the cage'. Trust me, if you are as much of a bibliophile as I am that cage is where you want to be. In here you will find ancient treasures embossed with gold leaf and tempting you from the shelves on which they sit. These are the rare books, first editions of famous novels and histories, rare picture books and rare limited editions of books published long ago.
I must confess I am not immune to the lure of this area. I sometimes go up there and read the spines of the books and dream about reading them. Currently I have my eye on a three volume set of 'The Conquest of Peru' – I don't know if I will ever own them but I can dream. At home I have a set of books, called the Harvard classics – 200, volumes of classics republished for a reading club back in the mid 1900's – that once resided in the cage. Treasures each and everyone of them. I was once told by someone who did not read as much as I did that I was crazy for loving the smell of old books. Perhaps I am – but if that is the case sanity holds no interest for me.
Sam Wellers has an old world charm about it, making one feel as if were transported straight from a previous era, with it's tall ladders, its bookshelves packed from floor to ceiling, it's rustic staircases and mezzanine, it's delightful smell and all the other things that make it what it is. Unfortunately the store will be moving, probably around Christmas. It is that anticipated move that is the focus of my interview with Tony Weller.
© Rebecca Dufresne, 2009, all rights reserved.