Special thanks to EDA Architects for their ongoing support of the Museum's projects and programs
Website updates are made possible with support from Squatters Pub Brewery.
SLCC film students contribute their stories in and about the Museum
The Museum's Broadway Wing
looks forward to welcoming
Sundance Film Festival
again next year!
Sundance took place in the Museum,
and the street lit up for 10 full days
With our new Sundance plakats up and down the street, made possible with support from SLC Corporation and EDA Architects, museum visitors got a preview of things to come — see a slideshow here.
"Along the Way" on Broadway
The work of the Oakland-based artists collaborative known as ©ause Collective was projected nightly during Sundance. If you missed it on the wall, catch it here and see how engaging the moment as we move through our cities can engage our senses and sensibilities day-by-day, along the way.
Sam Weller’s Bookstore History
by Tony Weller
In 1925, my grandparents, Gustav and Margaret Weller with five of their eventual 12 children, emigrated from eastern Germany to Salt Lake City, the home of the Mormon Church, the religion to which they had recently converted. Like many immigrants, they struggled with poverty, language barriers and bigotry born of the recent war against Germany. Gustav, who came to be known as Gus, worked in a mattress factory and then opened a used furniture shop.
One day while considering some second hand furniture, he encountered a large collection of used Mormon books. He made an offer and they were his. Shortly thereafter, his small furniture shop at 14 East 1st South became Zion's Bookstore. The bookstore opened on the 11th of August 1929, only weeks before the onset of the great depression. It stocked mostly Mormon books but also had a selection of general used books.
The family had little money and John and Sam, the two oldest sons, helped their father in the bookstore. The store scraped its way through the Great Depression, moving in 1930 to 28 East 1st South. This location was large enough to expand the selection of books to include new books. In 1939, Gus moved it to 65 East 2nd South. About this time, Gus started thinking he might like to take up farming. He started looking for land and eventually settled on some acreage in Marion, Utah. He moved to the farm, a move which his oldest children questioned, and started to split his time between bookselling and farming, leaving the bookstore in the hands of his sons much of the time.
Come 1943, Sam, 21 years old, was drafted into service in the Second World War. During the War, the bookstore was run by Rachel, the second oldest daughter and fourth child. John, fed up at having worked so much and earned so little, walked away from the family bookstore. Gus spent more and more of his time at his farm.
At the conclusion of the war, Gus compelled Sam to take the bookstore. Much like John, Sam wanted little to do with it. He had already given much of his youth to the unprofitable affair and had his sights set on the musical stage. But Gus, a forceful man to say the least, had his way. At 24, Sam took over. It was January 1946 and the bookstore was deeply in debt.
Sam was outgoing, hardworking and very charismatic. Through sheer perseverance, he pulled the store out of debt within a few years. In 1949, a friend in common introduced him to Lila Nelson, who was very well read and working at the Deseret News as secretary to the managing editor. Sam and Lila fell in love and by 1950, she was working in the bookstore part time, taking on the detail work which was Sam's weak point. Good with numbers, patient and kind of bashful, Lila took over bookkeeping and money management. In 1953, they were married.
In the 1950's, Zion Bookstore blossomed. Sam was finally able to employ a few helpers and with Lila's skills rounding out the necessary formula of a successful business, things were looking quite good. In 1957 she devised a card file inventory control system which enabled them to keep close track of their sales and ordering.
The store was known for Sam's energy and zealous commitment to finding books and for having a broad range of books from new to used, LDS or otherwise, with even a few contraband Henry Miller titles, for the customer who asked.
In 1961, Zion's Bookstore was moved to its current location in the David Keith Building at 254 South Main Street. To Sam, this move represented his arrival. Early in 1962, I was born. My name was taken from the Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens. Since both of my parents worked in the bookstore, I spent a lot of my childhood in it. It was a magical period. In the 1960's, downtown Salt Lake City was a thriving district. It was the place to be. By this time, Sam's reputation as a grand bookman was well established. In 1968, he accepted a position on the board of directors for the American Booksellers Association (ABA).
In the 1970's, downtown Salt Lake City entered hard times. Our bookstore and our neighboring merchants lost a parking lot to our own city. It was condemned and awarded to an irresponsible developer who was subsequently sued and went bankrupt. Two blocks north of us, a second mall was constructed across the street from the one existing downtown mall. This development caused many of the street side businesses to fail. The city undertook what was called "downtown beautification" which shut down the street for months and left it with less parking and more vacancies.
In 1972, we had a devastating fire which burned through the night for 12 hours and nearly destroyed the bookstore. Sam moved with fury, removing books from the store while the fire burned. Finally, the fire marshal told Sam that he needed to stay out of the building. Hands tied, he broke down. It was the first time I saw my father cry. All the same, at 5:00 AM the morning after, on his way home, Sam spotted a "for rent" sign in a downtown building and asked the employee to whom he was giving a ride to take down the phone number. With stamina and confidence similar to that which aided him in rescuing his father's bookstore in the 1940's, he moved the store and opened it two days later with a fire sale and within a year, moved back into the building on Main Street, actually enlarging the store by occupying adjacent spaces that had not been reoccupied after the fire.
In the mid 1970's, Sam and Lila along with other local booksellers, founded the Intermountain Booksellers Association (IBA). In 1977, in partnership with the Dahle family who runs a clothing business in the David Keith Building, my parents bought the building, a move which has been crucial to our survival in this neighborhood. At this time, at Lila's suggestion, the business' name was appended with Sam's incidentally Dickensian name to read Sam Weller's Zion Bookstore. Today, we are best known simply as Sam Weller's Books but old timers still call us Zion Bookstore.
I've worked in the bookstore ever since I asked for a five speed bike, when I was 10 years old. My father asked me how much it would cost. I told him and then spent my afternoons and much of the summer earning the money to buy it. Ever since my childhood, my father made it clear that he expected me to eventually run the family bookstore, a commitment which I resisted until I reached college.
For lack of space, I've not mentioned our various efforts at branch stores but from the 1940's until 1999, we've had branch stores in surrounding communities, mostly small general new bookstores but one effort at a text bookstore and most recently a mid-size new and secondhand store.
By the 1980's, downtown Salt Lake City had lost much of its foot traffic. Nonetheless, Sam Weller's Books remained, attracting bibliophiles locally and nationally to its vast collection of new, used and rare books. By this time, the store had grown to occupy roughly 25,000 square feet of retail space and huge storage areas.
In the early 1980's, upon realizing that nearly all of my friends were either bibliophiles or at least people whom I had met as a result of the book business, I told my father that I was definitely interested in assuming control of the bookstore when he decided the time was right. In 1988, he asked me to assume management of the staff. Also in 1988, I started dating an old acquaintance of mine by the name of Catherine G. Cheves. At that time she was working in the University of Utah Library system. In 1991 we married and in 1994 she came to work at the bookstore.
In the late 1980's, Sam applied for and was accepted as a member of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA), the most prestigious of associations of rare book dealers. His reputation was built primarily on his expertise in the book fields of Western Americana, Mormonism, Indians, Geology and writers of the West.
In 1991, Sam was struck with a series of heart and artery problems which caused him to be hospitalized six times in 12 months and to undergo four artery bypass surgeries. For much of this period, he was at risk of losing his left leg. He made an amazing recovery and by 1992, he was back at work with only a bit less of his general bookselling fury. From then until 1997, Sam and I worked side-by-side running the bookstore.
One sad morning, in January of 1997, Sam awoke to find that his eyesight had failed him. After months of medical testing, it was determined that some unidentified virus had entered his system and damaged his optic nerves. In March of that year, having a hard time keeping up with her workload and caring for Sam, Lila decided to retire. In May, Catherine delivered our child, Lila Ann, and took a leave of absence. To summarize, in a matter four months, the bookstore's staff decreased from four working Weller's to one.
Today, Sam Weller's Books still operates from its fourth and hopefully final location at 254 South Main Street. I assumed full management of the business early in 1997, shortly following my parents' retirements. We continue to stock huge quantities of new, used and rare books and we're constantly looking for ways to increase our selection. In fact, as I say, "We have more books than sense." Our bookstore is staffed by 35 book lovers, 10 of whom each has more than a decade of bookselling experience. We are known for our breadth of inventory, our knowledgeable help and our dogged efforts to match books with their readers.