The Bookmarks series will profile unique bookstores and literary spaces across the country. These landmarks, often celebrated within the cities featured in our Literary Boroughs series, are home to myriad readings, panels, classes, workshops, and—of course—books. Posts are merely introductions to these spaces; we encourage readers to contribute additional details in the comments section.
The historic Central West End neighborhood in St. Louis is home to the flagship Left Bank Books, a cultural fixture of the city since the late 60s. At the store’s heart flits Kris Kleindienst, who has loved and tended to Left Bank as its co-owner for the past thirty-nine years. On a late September afternoon, we meet near the Mystery section in the shop’s cozy basement. Kleindienst slides into her seat with a terrific exhale; she says it’s been a very busy day. Shortly thereafter, a customer approaches her with invoice concerns. “See what I mean?” she says, and hustles away into a fold of bookshelves.
While she attends to business, I admire a silver haired couple who giggles over a paperback in the used section. A group of college kids trots around the poetry aisles overhead. The resident cat, Spike, weaves around customers’ feet and down the stairs. This ceaseless Monday activity speaks to Left Bank’s heartening success as an independent bookstore despite the challenges of a changing industry. “We’ve had our ups and downs,” Kleindienst says, now back at our table and smiling. “But we’re still here.” More than just “still here,” Left Bank is thriving. In fact, a second storefront—all glass and angles and warm light—opened up in downtown St. Louis just a few years ago.