Left Bank Books Celebrates 50 Years of Selling Books

click to enlarge Left Bank Books owners Jarek Steele and Kris Kleindienst. - JOSHUA PHELPS
Left Bank Books owners Jarek Steele and Kris Kleindienst.
Pundits may declare digital books are the future, but Left Bank Books co-owner Kris Klendiesnst disagrees. With the motto “Literacy and Justice for All,” Left Bank Books is holding strong and has recently celebrated 50 years as an independent bookstore with activist roots. “We provide purpose in a community that digital media doesn’t address,” says Klendiesnst. “We put a face on the experience.”

Originally opening July 11, 1969, at Skinker and Delmar, Left Bank Books (399 N. Euclid Ave; 314-367-6731) started when a collective of Washington University students wanted a safe haven for anti-war and pro-civil rights minds alike. Stocking political, as well as gay and lesbian magazines, Left Bank had material no one else had at the time.

Kleindienst joined as the bookstore’s only employee in 1974. Throughout the years, the activists at Wash. U. graduated and sold the bookstore to two brothers who relocated the store to where it is today at the Central West End. Kleindienst and a coworker took over the bookstore in 1977 when the brothers wanted out of the book-selling business.

“It was financially quite challenging, so the two of us who worked there agreed to take the store over,” Kleindienst says. “We were booksellers, we were not business people. We did not have any idea what [they] meant by assuming the debt.”

With no money to put in the store, Kleindienst and her co-owner sold books to pay back the debt and raised $5,000 to keep the store alive. “We learned how to be business people,” she reflects.

Now co-owning the store with her transgender husband, Jarek Steele, since 2002, Kleindienst says she’s grateful for the community that’s supported the business over the years. “Fifty years is a long time. There’s so much history in that store. Jarek and I both feel very grateful for the opportunity to serve this community. I feel lucky to be a part of it,” she says.

Left Bank held their Friends of Left Bank sale last weekend and the 50th anniversary party will be held on October 25 at 7 p.m. Additionally, the bookstore is selling a commemorative 50th anniversary t-shirt that can be purchased for $20 on their website. There will be cake, finger foods and various performers. Tickets are $30 and there is a cash bar. Fore more information, visit www.left-bank.com.

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