Greig: The Chronicle Connected Me to Our Local Community — Ken Sanders One Year Later


Jack Gambassi

Avery Greig, arts editor of the Daily Utah Chronicle, poses at the Utah Museum of Fine Arts on the University of Utah campus on Thursday, March 30, 2023. (Photo by Jack Gambassi | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Avery Greig, Arts Editor


If my time at the Chronicle has imparted one thing to me, it is a deep and true love of getting to understand members of our Salt Lake and University of Utah community.

One year after our last conversation, I sat down with Ken Sanders of Salt Lake’s heart and soul Ken Sanders Rare Books. Together, we dove into the shop’s progress in the transition to The Leonardo, book ban effects on marginalized communities, Frank Zappa and the challenges of being a small business owner in Salt Lake City.

The Unbanner of Books

A man of many words and even more books, Sanders is committed to providing a space that is welcome to all people — especially in response to the recent wave of parents across the nation calling for major book bans in schools.

“If you are a parent, you have an absolute sacred right to choose what your children are allowed access to, not just books,” Sanders said. “But when you start to dictate what other people’s children have access to, you have crossed a line, and you’re not getting away with it.”

Recent book ban movements specifically target texts that explore themes of race, racism or activism and characters of color, but the majority of bans target LGBTQ+ themes and characters. In fact, according to Pen America, 41% of banned books “explicitly address LGBTQ+ themes or have protagonists or prominent secondary characters who are LGBTQ+,” and 40% of banned books “contain protagonists or prominent secondary characters of color.” One thing is obvious: these bans aim to silence marginalized communities, and Sanders will not let it slide.

“I thank the parents that are banning books in our schools and libraries for providing me a list of banned books so that I could carry them in my store, and I now call myself the unbanner of books,” Sanders said. “These people are inadvertently feeding me the titles.”

Sanders wants to curate a diverse repertoire of books that cater to all people in the Salt Lake community. He goes about this by carrying and knowing authors, even those he’s never read, like the back of his hand in order for all kinds of people to have access to the books they need.

“We want people to feel safe here, it’s about human compassion,” Sanders said. “We have very diverse clientele here.” 

Small Business in Small Lake City

It’s hard to hear that a safe space can be in jeopardy, but that is the unfortunate case for Ken Sanders Rare Books.

“In the year’s time since we last talked, Avery, more or less, nothing has happened,” said Sanders in reference to the shop’s grand move to The Leonardo.

“The city council voted unanimously to allow me to move into The Leonardo, and we’ve had a bookstore over there for over two years now but it’s unstaffed,” Sanders said. “I can’t afford to staff two bookstores, I can barely afford to staff this one.”

Noting that local bureaucracy is negatively affecting his small business, the shop owner shared that some non-profits are able to move into The Leonardo for free — but not Sanders, who is faced with an onslaught of charges, including crushing rent rates.

“I really don’t know what to do … we are just in this limbo,” Sanders said. “It’s been a living nightmare, and there is no end in sight.”

He hopes to eventually minimally staff the Leonardo location and avoid foreclosure at the original store on 268 S and 200 E.

The transition is not the only factor negatively impacting Ken Sanders Rare Books, as they are plagued by a silent killer: the mistreatment of small businesses. Just the other week, an electric company van parked itself in front of the shop, completely blocking the entrance.

“And they are going to get away with it,” said Sanders, who commented on the loss of business due to the negligent obstruction. Additionally, construction efforts spurred by developers have completely torn up the streets around the bookshop, resulting in closed roads and sidewalks, blocked parking spaces and loud construction noises. Overall, these efforts have dwindled business for Sanders and other small shops nearby.

“Why isn’t there a fund for small business like there is for the big guys?” Sanders said. “As a small businessman, and I’ve been one for over 50 years in downtown Salt Lake, treat us equally. Give us our fair share.”

At age 71, Sanders has taken to liquidating personal assets to keep things up and running.

Rescue Mission Returns: Buy Local Books

Still, hope is not even remotely lost for our beloved bookstore.

“Money is not a god to me. … I’d rather have books,” Sanders said. “There is not a time that I don’t recall reading books. My late mother said I was born reading a book. I think that’s possibly an exaggeration.”

Reminiscing on the GoFundMe that kept the shop in business during the pandemic lockdown, Sanders recounted the humbling experience of being aided by the community.

“You are in this position where people that don’t know you, love you,” said Sanders about his supporters. Overall, the GoFundMe raised $170,000 from 3,000 people, $100,000 of which was raised in the first week.

“There are a few hundred of those people who I know, but the vast majority of it was from perfect strangers,” Sanders said. “One person donated $5,000. The ones that got to me were people who donated five or 10 bucks. They were the believers that didn’t have any money, but they were giving me their money anyway. It was a very humbling experience.” 

Even with the closure of the GoFundMe, there is still a way to help out Salt Lake’s pinnacle bookshop: “Buy more books! That’s all! That’s what is going to keep us in business,” Sanders said. The shop has thousands of cheap, affordable books that are highly accessible and a warm, welcoming energy that seeps into one’s soul.

There is simply nowhere like Ken Sanders Rare Books.

“We are selling books,” Sanders said. “It’s a physical object. But, they are time machines, they transport you to other dimensions and other places in the past and the future and reading books is the biggest tool we have for educating our young. We need them now more than ever.” 

An Editor’s Farewell: Speak Up or Forever Suffer Your Silence

Speaking to artists about their work, connecting with museums, covering exhibitions and sharing my voice on the Chronicle’s platform has surely taught me about writing, but more so, it has taught me about speaking, listening and the deep intricacies of being a human. At the Chronicle, I had the esteemed pleasure, privilege and responsibility of acting as a conduit between wonderful individuals in our community and the broadcasting of their truths to the world.

Writing for the Chronicle was a divine happenstance. I had no previous experience with journalism prior to my spontaneous start on the arts desk, and after two years of labor and love I find myself departing as arts desk editor. I had the immense joy of leading the most wonderful group of writers in being the artistic voices of our community. Guiding them in work that I hold such an immense passion for is an experience that has taught me to never settle for anything other than my own truth.

My message? Buy a book. Shop Local. Talk Local. Read the news. And never forget to speak up — the Chronicle taught me that my voice matters, and that is something I won’t soon neglect.


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