The King’s English celebrates a renaissance for independent bookstores with its 40th birthday

SALT LAKE CITY — Forty years ago, Betsy Burton was renting a room in what would soon become The King’s English Bookshop. She was writing what she calls, “in retrospect, a really bad novel” and had talked her friend Ann Berman into renting the room next to her so they could have coffee “when we should have been writing.”

Burton said in an interview with the Deseret News that back in the late ’70s, typical bookstores just had books on shelves and people browsed on their feet, but she and Berman thought Salt Lake City lacked the kind of bookstore that was filled with chairs where people could sit around and talk about books.

So they decided to use their rented space to open a bookstore with that kind of community atmosphere. They thought they would write their novels in the back room and come out when the bell tinkled.

Little did they know “the book business is a lot more complicated than one would think,” Burton said. “We quickly found that we had to learn a lot more about business than we knew, and we totally fell in love.”

Berman left shortly after, in 1980, but The King’s English, the store she helped co-found, has managed to thrive ever since. It survived the arrival of dominating book chains in the ’90s and the onset of Amazon with ebooks and audiobooks to now celebrate its 40th birthday on Sept. 10, with events being held on Saturday, Sept. 9.

In fact, Burton said independent bookstores are experiencing a renaissance as large chains such as Barnes and Noble struggle against Amazon’s cheap prices and instant gratification.

“People actually like to go browse and turn the pages,” Burton said. So, as the chains flounder (with ones such as Borders going under), those who prefer “being able to physically shop” are coming to the independent stores.

Benefit to the economy

It was in the ’90s when big chains threatened the existence of independent bookstores such as The King’s English (or the Shop Around the Corner in “You’ve Got Mail”) that Burton decided to turn her focus to the community.

“We knew we wouldn’t survive without our community, that that was what would keep us going,” she said.

She also knew that chains, and Amazon when it came along later, were taking money outside the state and ultimately hurting the economy.

“We started to get studies done that proved this,”…

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