It’s been more than 25 years since Ken Sanders opened his eponymous Rare Books store on 200 East. A lover of old things and a keeper of weird Utah lore, Sanders built his second-hand and rare book shop out of the remains of Cosmic Aeroplane, a head shop that was more than just bongs. It was a countercultural gathering space, and after it closed Sanders established his book shop to ensure that things remained sufficiently weird in SLC. But now the rapid “revitalization” of the area has literally come to Sanders’ doorstep with his small little store now almost completely surrounded by bulldozers, construction and rising cranes. Sanders has known since 2019 that the block his store is on has been marked for demolition, and he has endured plenty of heartburn and sleepless nights trying to puzzle out a new home for the massive collection of books, ephemera and lore that one of his staffers jokingly calls “box mountain.”
A solution emerged when Sanders began talks with Salt Lake City and the management at The Leonardo to consider allowing him to move mountain of books into The Leo and occupy some of the space that was once the Salt Lake Public library. Sanders started by opening a small pop-up shop in The Leo’s lobby and waded into the slog of public meetings, negotiations and renegotiations to permanently move his store into what will hopefully become both fulfillment of The Leo’s vague mission of cultural support and offer a third act for Sanders’ endeavors.
It hasn’t been easy. Despite political support on the city council and an outpouring of public comment and well wishes—including a GoFundMe campaigns to keep things moving forward—Sanders has faced bureaucratic obstacles, in-fighting between The Leo and Salt Lake City staff and the realities of renovating a space in a historic building that has equally historic plumbing and infrastructure originally built when Eisenhower was in the White House.
“I can’t tell you how many times we thought it wasn’t going to happen,” he says. “But finally the [city] council voted overwhelmingly in favor.”
And thus Sanders has persevered and, he says, even started having fun. The Leo still has the spaces that were once the Salt Lake Library’s children’s reading room and other chambers below the main floor. Sanders has lovingly recreated his own children’s books section (as a doting grandfather, children’s books are a passion of his) and the other chambers below decks will become his “sanctum sanctorum” where he will house and display his most rare and valuable books.
“It’s going to be an adjustment but it really is a beautiful space,” he says. “It opens a new chapter for my store.”
Sanders is planning to stage a public event for the big move and set up relay line (or book brigade) from his original location to the new store in The Leonardo. Visit kensandersbooks.com and sign up for the store’s newletter to learn how to join the party to pass books (not the rare ones) from one store to the next and be a part of this historic move.
While you’re here, subscribe and get six issues of Salt Lake magazine, your guide to the best of life in Utah.