SALT LAKE CITY — Since he first opened his business, bookstore owner Bret Eborn has heard tourists from other states tell him how grateful they are for his shop's existence as they had lost their own local bookstores back home.
After six years of selling rare and used books at its Main Street location, Eborn Books is joining the long list of local bookstores that have closed across the nation, and is shutting its doors at the end of the month.
Eborn learned he was being evicted from the David Keith Building for a major renovation several weeks ago.
The Salt Lake location of Eborn Books, 254 S. Main, opened in 2012, replacing another iconic bookstore, Sam Weller's Books, which had been at that location since 1961 before moving to Trolley Square in 2011.
"It’s Salt Lake’s loss, because it’s part of the culture and (a bookstore) has been here for decades, and now it’s going to be gone,” he said. “As far as for us, as Eborn Books, we’re going to be fine.”
Eborn, who opened the Main Street store with his wife, Cindy, said its variety and unique size — at 40,000 square feet — drew locals and tourists alike.
"There are a lot of people who have been coming here for years,” he said, “I’ve met people who met their spouse in here, who’ve proposed in here. We’ve had people come in here to film movies."
Annette Ford, who was leaving the shop last week with a copy of the book "Memoirs of a Geisha," said she learned of the store's closing a few weeks ago.
"It's going to be sad when this place is gone, hopefully, they reopen somewhere close by," she said.
Salt Lake City resident Adam Manousakis said he appreciated the shop's range of fantasy and science fiction novels "that generally you wouldn't find at Barnes and Noble."
While Eborn is optimistic for the next phase of his business, he doesn't look forward to the process of moving his inventory of a million books to a nearby warehouse to support his online book business, which makes up 70 percent of his sales.
The Eborn Book business began 30 years ago and has other locations in Provo, Ogden, Layton and even Nauvoo, Illinois, along with its online store.
Eborn said he's been looking for a new location to replace the three-story downtown site but hasn't been able to find an affordable space.
It's a familiar story to another brick-and-mortar book business.
Just a few blocks east, Ken Sanders, owner of Ken Sanders Rare Books, 268 S. 200 East, is facing a similar issue as a developer bought the lot his business sits on four years ago.
"We're more than just selling shoes, we're part of a cultural heritage and fabric of the city," he said. "That leaves us as the only bookshop standing in downtown Salt Lake City and we're not going to be here for long without some kind of intervention."
Sanders, who opened the shop with his then-teenage daughter in 1997, believes his bookstore has between 12 to 24 months until he's evicted and developers start building.
"We're in a complete state of uncertainty," Sanders said. "We'll be history, and we have no place to move."
Sanders said he's had a difficult time finding an affordable, new location for his 4,000-square-foot bookstore.
"You need lots of square footage for low rent," he said. "Right now, that doesn't exist in this city."
Traditionally, bookstores have operated in "seedier" districts in downtown areas in order to be able to survive with a low rent, he said.
"I don't know that we can fund a suitable place to move to, it's a complete open question, within two years the store may (as) well die with me. I just don't know. I don't know where to afford to find the square footage that we need," he said.
But Sanders is not angry at the developers.
"Developers develop, it's what they do," he said. "I'm not complaining, I've had a great run here for very little money for 20 years. I'm still paying way under market for this (location). I've had a really good run, it's coming to an end here. I'm not trying to throw the developer under the bus."
His ire is focused online.
When Amazon.com first opened its online business in 1995 it called itself "Earth's Biggest Bookstore" and was a major competitor for brick-and-mortar businesses like Barnes and Noble and Borders. In 2011, Borders went out of business and closed hundreds of its remaining stores.
"It's a huge issue. I'm going to make my own decision, but I don't think I can expect some savior to save my bookstore for a future generation," Sanders said.
"Books and their readers are never ever going to go away. Bookstores I'm not as confident of, because of the money issues that are forcing more and more people online," he said.
"Do our societies, our cities, our culture value literacy, literature and books enough to want to subsidize their continued existence?"
Where Eborn Books now operates, building owner Rob Dahle is looking to demolish and renovate 35,000 square feet of the structure's 65,000 square feet.
Among the other businesses evicted from the historic building include alternative weekly magazine City Weekly, jewelry store T P Gallery and local coffee shop Coffee Garden on Main Street. Keys on Main, a piano bar, will remain in the building through the renovations because it has already been renovated, Dahle said.
“The way it sits right now, it's just old and in need of repair," Dahle said.
Dahle, who is mayor of Holladay, said they are going to demolish the spaces that are going to be vacated by the businesses. Renovations will include roof, mechanical and electrical replacements, fixing plumbing leaks and improving the building's front facade.
"This should not be a surprise for any of them, and we've given them enough time to relocate or find a place to relocate so that their business is disrupted as little as possible," Dahle said.
Renovations could begin late this year or early 2020.12 comments on this story
Dahle anticipates the second and third floors will be used as office space, while street level will possibly be filled by businesses like bars and restaurants, which doesn't sit well with his soon to be former tenant.
“There are bars and restaurants in every direction, there’s only one bookstore like this,” Eborn said. “But it’s his building so he has the right to do what he wants.
“I really don’t see the day where anybody will do this again in this town. It seems like once a city has lost their big bookstore, it’s gone."