Tony Weller, who manages one of downtown Main Street’s few remaining bright lights (Sam Weller’s Bookstore, 254 S. Main), is pleased that Salt Lake City will continue the holiday tradition of offering two hours of free parking downtown through New Year’s.n
Are you upset with the decision-making that helped cause or create Main Street’s numerous storefront vacancies?
nI am working on becoming un-upset. I don’t blame decisions as much as much as I blame shortsighted greed for messing up our downtown. I am especially sensitive to how real estate speculation erodes neighborhoods. Middle-class property owners just can’t afford to not utilize property.
Parking continues to be a problem downtown, not because there is too little of it, but because in a city like ours, people have low tolerance for cost associated with downtown parking. I know it can’t be free, but it would help immensely if the city were to run parking at a break-even basis. No one comes downtown to park! People come downtown to eat at Market Street, go to the Capitol Theatre or come to Sam Weller’s. Parking is always incidental and the practices of many parking corporations are unfriendly and detrimental to the areas in which they operate. The parking business is not equal to other businesses. Parking is fully dependant on others creating reasons to park in the first place.n
I reject the economic paradigm that permits municipalities to spend taxpayers’ money to entice development or new business. Most of what is spent in the name of economic development has enriched developers while harming neighborhoods. Let’s rewrite regulations to affect changes that are sustainable and support local citizens. Maybe we could just have higher property taxes for nonlocal ownership along with rent controls to ensure that the costs are not passed on. Maybe business license fees should be higher for out-of state businesses that extract capital from our community. Maybe if we took all we might spend on corporate welfare and spent it on schools, the environment, mass transit and universal health care in Utah, businesses would come here because it would be a great place to live.n
We need a blight tax for commercial districts. I think increasing property taxes by 10 percent each year after, oh, let’s say two years of vacancy, would put some kick in some butts. Something like a shit-or-get-off-the-block mechanism to could compel negligent property owners to do something or impel them to sell to someone who will. What is especially tragic in this cycle is that we continue developing foothills and good agricultural land while we permit urban properties to languish.n
Aside from downtown’s woes, how is Sam Weller’s faring these days?
nThese are challenging times for all booksellers, but we’re dedicated to books and the city. We’re envisioning our millennium bookstore somewhat smaller than it is today that continues to serve as a local cultural hub. We’re working toward striking a few new creative relationships like those we have with the Coffee Garden and Scrub Oak Bindery. We hope those who understand the value of what we do will assure our future by supporting us and other locally owned businesses. Our nation’s economic problems aren’t just a change in the weather but our comeuppance for worshiping the hollow insatiable god of consumerism.
Do bookstores tend to weather economic storms better than most retail?
nUnfortunately, we are also affected by the nation’s messed-up economic situation. Corporations that grew rapidly right after the Internet became real oversaturated the book market severely and led to wholesale waste and inflation. The entire book industry, from publishers to booksellers to chain stores, is beleaguered.
On the other hand, we sell secondhand books, the supply and demand of which tends to increase during times of economic downturns. For those who have the money, this is a very good time to buy used and rare books. We’ve had amazing rarities emerge during the past several months. And current price expectations are lower than they were recently. Well-chosen rare books are much more stable than many investments.n
With so many books at your fingertips, how do you choose just one to read?
nSince my youth, I have rolled dice to make decisions. I started managing my reading by dice as a teen. When I was 19, I had only about 40 books on my to-be-read dice list. Now I have nearly 2500. I select which books go on the list but I determine which I will read next by chance. It’s a great system that forces me to balance pleasure and edification.
I permit myself to read three dissimilar books at one time. And I almost never quit reading until the book is complete. Because of dice, I have read many obscure books and have notable areas of ignorance.n
Right now I am reading Jesus Invades George by Luke Rhinehart, a 2008 satirical novel about Christ possessing the body of George W. Bush. I am also reading The History of Printing by John Clyde Oswald published in 1928. Last, I’m reading the massive 2003 book from the University of California, Emma Goldman: A Documentary History of the Early Years, Volume One: Made for America, 1890-1901. It covers contemporary news, articles, speeches, etc., from the period of her political life.n
How many books do you read in a year?
nI am a slow but persistent reader and I’m lazier than I enjoy admitting. I read regularly but probably only finish 20-25 books a year.
Are there any obscene books, in your opinion?
nNo two people define obscenity in the same way. For instance, I find violence much more obscene than sexuality. “Bad” words don’t disturb me, but morons and bigots do. We sell books of all topics including books with which I personally disagree. Some are dangerous and some are just stupid or wrong.
That’s one challenge of an open society but it’s far preferable to censorship and control. Freedom and responsibility come hand in hand. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart once said, “Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself. It is a hallmark of an authoritarian regime.” I’ll sell whatever you want to read because it is no more correct for me to curtail your reading than it is for you to curtail mine.n
What is the most vexing ethical dilemma you face as a bookseller?
nI’m not sure I have an ethical dilemma. I feel good about our work. Some might think we should have paid them more for their used books but put those people in the bookseller’s shoes for a while and then ask. Booksellers don’t earn much money but we are the spiritually rich of the retail world. We are purveyors of fantasy, knowledge and the history and culture of the whole human race.