I was a bookstore hound then. I still am now.
I spent hours, browsing through shelves in fluorescent lighted, commercial bookstores. Almost everything in it was shiny and new. On some days, we’d visit second hand bookstores bathing in the same intense fluorescent whiteness on equally white vinyl flooring with floor to ceiling shelves and cardboard boxes filled with yellow paged, dog-eared preloved books.
Yeah, these bookstores served me well then, providing me with all the books my parents and my own money could buy, but somehow they weren’t the kind of bookstores that actually told a story. This is why, here, I am always on the lookout for bookstores with a story.
Prospero’s Books in Kansas City, Missouri was one of those bookstores.
Prospero’s Books’ building on 39th Street was a former grocery built in 1890. Then in 1912, it was turned into a hardware store. Much later, in 1999, it was turned into a bookstore by poet and writer, W.E. (Will) Leathem and real estate agent-slash-waiter-slash-more-odd-jobs Tom Wayne. The original historic Johnson Hardware building housed the newly expanded Prospero’s Books, which moved from its original location…from across the street.
Prospero’s Books was the way it was because it was that way. It was not one of those places that was engineered to look, smell and feel old, that it has history. The bookstore buzzed with age as the floor boards creaked with my every step, as the scent of mildew wafted from the leather covered, probably even hand stitched books.
The Prospero’s Books duo actually were rather infamous for a statement they made on the decline of literary reading in the US. They set fire to a pyre of books. You read that right. Books. Books that were let go by reluctant readers, by second hand bookstores, who could not sell them anymore.
But nowadays, they don’t burn books.
Their shelves, walls and even staircase were bursting with all kinds of books – new, pre-loved and even abandoned books. Books naked, void of plastic protectors, in all its glory. Spines ready to be stroked. Pages ready to be flipped. There were nooks and crannies were you could sit down, curl up, browse and just be cozy with the written word.
So much is the love of Will Leathem and Tom Wayne for the written word that words are engraved onto the bookstore’s concrete foundation. Maybe because that’s what the written word does to us. They make a mark, one that
Prospero’s Books is a place where your love for books will be set ablaze again and again and again.
1800 West 39th Street
Kansas City, Missouri 64111
+1 (816) 531 9673
Open daily 10AM – 5PM with extended hours for events
Open late for every Uptown theater show