607 Trolley Square
Salt Lake City, UT
Mon - Sat Mon - Thurs: 11:00 am - 8:00 pm<br> Fri - Sat: 10:00 am - 9:00 pm
Sunday 12:00 pm - 5:00 pm

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sam weller bookstore front

New name for a new space

Catherine and I are the third generation of Wellers to serve the community's interests by selling books. My grandfather, Gustav, opened the original store at the onset of the Great Depression. It was then called Zion Bookstore. My father, Sam, took over in 1946. Sam and my mother, Lila, moved the bookstore to 254 S. Main Street in 1961. In the 1970s the name became Sam Weller's Zion Bookstore. By the 1980s we simply went by Sam Wellers.

I have worked in the family bookstore since childhood. Main Street was a vibrant place throughout my youth but beginning in the 1980's it began to decline as a shopping district due to the proliferation of new suburban malls, increasing parking costs and some poor development decisions. Sales weakened for independent booksellers in the late 1980s and the 1990s as stock funded corporate booksellers fought for dominance. A bit later the internet and ebooks gave users new ways to get information once found only in books. Today all the foregoing is exacerbated by our troubled economy.

We value the long heritage of our bookstore. Sam Weller was a gregarious, energetic bookman whose reputation was known across the country. He was a powerful man and a dedicated father who had a giant influence in my life. But his energy hasn't been strongly felt in the bookstore since he lost his eyesight in 1997. Sam passed away in 2009. For all our love and respect for the bookstore we have been on Main Street, we felt that our new store -- designed and built by Catherine, our team and me -- wouldn't be, and simply couldn't be called Sam's anymore.

When we open our store in Trolley Square on January 6th, it will be known as Weller Book Works. For months we pondered how to preserve the family name while embracing a new identity that reflects our new location, our new style of bookselling, and our changed culture. We settled on "Works" because it is an active term and we're active booksellers. I've often said we're the proletariats of the book world. Works has good connotations. This works. Books work (without batteries and for hundreds of years). It works for me. We work for you. We like the industrial association and think it fits nicely into the old trolley garages into which Trolley Square has been built.

We're excited about our new name and logo. We're also excited about the new web site that will follow shortly. We hope you'll enjoy the bookstore that makes them meaningful.

My 22nd Annual Hair Cut

Every Spring, between the last week of April and the first week of May, i have my hair shaved down to about a sixteenth of an inch. It's a program i have maintained since 1988. Auspicious coincidences and occurrences are tied to this hair cut. Here's the story of its genesis.

I was really into rock and roll as a kid. By my teens in mid-1970's i wanted bell bottoms and long hair. My parents are 41 and 46 years my seniors so they had no interest in the rock scene. So we fought over my hair.

I finally won the freedom to wear my hair as i chose at 14, but that didn't mean i had approval. My parents hated my hair long, more accurately, they hated my big hair because my hair is so curly that it grows big instead of long. They were just getting used to my long hair when i took to punk rock, in about 1980. My first great punk do was gradations of purple with a sort-of rib-cage on the back of my head. Later i had a skunk stripe. Later in the 80s, i grew it big again and even tried dreadlocks for a while in 1987 but i hated the way the dreadlocks felt. Anyhow, my parents really didn't care for any of these hair styles.

In 1988, my friend Larnie Fox asked me to perform an opening piece for a more substantial performance art piece he was going to do at the Salt Lake Media Center and i agreed. When i learned the venue and the date i realized that it would happen on my father's birthday. At that time, i hadn't cut my hair for a few years. I had a massive dark tangle on my head.

So i decided that my performance art piece would be, "Mom Cuts My Hair for Dad's Birthday," a re-enactment of my childhood haircuts which were given by my mother while i sat on a tall chair in the kitchen with a towel wrapped around my neck. I asked my parents, who liked my performance projects about as much as they liked my hair, if they would participate. They agreed.

The audience numbered about 100. I introduced my parents to the audience and from underneath my big hair i explained the conflicts we had had over my hair for so many years. My dad, Sam Weller, is a ham. He prepared for the evening by bringing one of my high school photos in which i had mysteriously looked respectable. He passed it through the crowd while making strong assertions about how good i could look with the right hair cut. Then, with a flourish he pulled the longest scissors i had ever seen from a pocket within his jacket.

Definitions of performance art have always been vague and it is common for some members of an audience to think that performance art is theater, dance or music. I guess some in the audience thought that this was some pretend thing. I was surprised as the gasps of horror that were emitted when my father cut off the first sizable handful. Then my mother took over with her own normal-sized scissors and finished the job. It was very casual and homey. And i was surprised at how much the audience seemed to enjoy it. Annie, a film maker who was also a hair stylist complimented the piece at the end of the evening. So also said that the cut was a bit crooked and offered to fix it free of charge. I accepted her offer and visited her within the week.

That evening, after the performances, about a dozen of us ended up in Juniors, a bar, together. A friend of mine, Catherine Cheves, was among the group. I had known Cat for about seven years and always been attracted to her. I attempted to flirt with her but was so inept that she couldn't tell what i was doing. My last ditch effort was to offer her a ride home upon learning that she needed one. So i took her a her friend to her apartment at about midnight. She invited me in for another drink and i decided i would just hang around waiting for her friend to leave. I didn't know the friend was staying there at the time and couldn't even go to bed until i left. After too many drinks, i left at about 3:00 a.m., thwarted in my romantic efforts.

I was so annoyed with myself that when i got home, i wrote a drunken confessional letter to Catherine and delivered it the following day. It included an invitation to dinner and a play, the following week.

So on May 1st, 1988 with my new short hair, i had my first date with Cat. We are both careful people but years of friendship, numerous mutual friends, many common interests, and apparent mutual attraction caused us to fall rapidly toward one and other in love.

Meanwhile, my mother had gotten the inaccurate and hopeful impression that i had turned over some kind of new leaf with my hair. She tracked down Annie, and bought me a gift certificate worth six hair cuts. She thought it might last me a year. She was wrong. Now my relationship with Catherine seemed to also be linked to that haircut. I had been a longhair and a punk and had become sure that nothing i did would please everyone. I enjoyed the wildness of long hair. But I am also a late sleeper and impatient groomer. For those reasons, short hair was appealing. So with six free haircuts in hand, i decided i would cut my hair once annually in Spring and get a bit of both realities. I would be 1995 before i had to pay for the annual buzz.

Seven months after Cat and i fell in love, we bought a house together. On May 1st 1990, i proposed to her. On May 1st 1991, we married and guess what? I got a haircut that day.

And i just kept getting that one haircut each year at right around the same time.

In Spring of 1997, Catherine was pregnant with our child who was expected in mid-May. Our impatient daughter decided to get herself born a little early and Catherine entered labor on May 5th. It took long enough that Lila Ann wasn't born until May 6th, early in the morning on the day i had scheduled my hair cut. I was desperately tired since i had been mostly awake for nearly 36 hours. Nonetheless, i kept my appointment and Annie shaved my head yet again, for the tenth time in as many years, about four hours after the birth of my daughter.

Now i have just recently received the 22nd of these annual haircuts. I maintain the habit because it is seasonally appropriate and the act, in a vague and goofy way, seems to commemorate the births of my father and daughter as well as my courtship and marriage to Catherine. Those who know me track Spring by my haircut. We know the season of any photo i'm in by the length of my hair. I've done it for so long now that it would feel very odd to stop. Here are before and after photos of the 2009 removal.


Growing Up With Books

As the only child in a bookselling family in which both parents worked, i spent many childhood hours in our family bookstore. In the 1960's, bookstores were still cultural centers of communities. Downtown areas had not yet been eviscerated by speculation, urban sprawl and suburban mall development. Wall Street had not yet overfed corporations, enabling them to grow beyond sustainability. Books were still a part of many peoples lives. Though i didn't recognize them as such, those were the golden days of the book industry.

As a child, i trolled the bookstore soaking up influence from the booksellers who were employed by my parents. I was born in 1962 so i call myself an infant boomer. Though i was too young to be a true participant in the culture of the era, my cultural, political, philosophical and musical outlooks were shaped by the 1960's. Of course i took books and reading for granted.

In school, i often felt like an outsider. I was drawn to other outsiders and even misfits. I was troubled by the meanness of children. Of the three communities where i spent much time - school, the bookstore, and church - the bookstore seemed like the most enlightened. It was at church and school that i learned racial slurs, sexism and bigotry. Even as a child, i knew these ways of thinking were stupid and wrong. At my parents bookstore, people of color in this, especially then, predominantly white community, were treated with respect. A gay couple who worked here received the same respect. Since most of bigotry to which i was exposed was of other kids, i presumed that open-mindedness, creativity and intelligence were functions of maturity. I didn't then realize that the crap coming out of kids' mouths was probably learned from their parents. So i bid my time through my school years, waiting for the magical world of enlightened adults to become reality. I wouldn't give up on this fairy tale until i reached college.

As a child, i read quite a bit. I was also a prankster. Math came easily to me. I was thoughtful and analytical and often stymied by decision making. I received from my father Sam, my first Beatles record, Meet the Beatles, when i was about five. I thought it was the coolest thing i had ever heard and played it incessantly, rocking out by myself in my bedroom. I was surprised that none of my friends seemed to care much about rock and roll. I don't think i had a friend who shared my interest in music until about fourth grade, when i met Chris Bertagnole. He was my first rock buddy and we are still friends today.

I met another good friend, Robert Baxter, at a neighborhood garage fire. I think we were in third grade. My school in the lower avenues, Longfellow, had recently been torn down to make room for parking for the Mormon ward next door. I had been transferred to Ensign, where i had seen Robert, but not really made his acquaintance. When we each saw smoke and were drawn to the burning garage, we met in our mutual neighborhood and became fast friends. Between 3rd and 12th grade, we perpetrated more pranks and stunts than i can even remember. We specialized in the unusual and in a later blog i might write about some of our more successful efforts. We are still friends today.

I am a small man and i was a small boy. I recall becoming frustrated at my lack of athletic prowess about half way through elementary school. The most resonant memory is having to leave recess pick-up basketball games because there were always 10 players who were better than i. So i whined to my father. He's now too frail to resemble the man he was then, but my father, Sam Weller was an aggressive, can-do, go-getter. Not a quitter. Neither did he have much patience for whining. He said, "well, you'll just have to practice until you're good enough to make the games." He had already hung a hoop in the driveway but then he proceeded to play ball with me every night after work. No whining. So i gradually shed most of my woosiness and became a good basketball player. Within a year, i was not only included in every playground game, i was frequently captain of a team. My father's can-do aggression became my first lesson in the value of perseverance, one i am now imparting to my own daughter.

I mentioned that math came easily to me. I dug math because it seemed to be without ambiguity. As a child i was sometimes nearly incapacitated with indecision. I was a very lucky boy in that i had nearly three parents. My mother, Lila Weller, had a very close friend in Margaret Smith and Margaret was like a member of our family. She traveled with us and my parents left me with her every Sunday, after the Mormon church i was then forced by Sam to attend. With Margaret, i played many games and i suspect, because i was so young that i cannot do better, that it was game playing that first gave me the idea to overcome indecision with chance. I recall coloring coloring books, by chance. I would dump all my crayons into a shoe box and place it behind myself. Then i would decide what i would color and grab a random crayon and color it. Later, i overcame indecision about getting dressed in the morning by pulling cards from decks to determine what i would wear. I think i was in either 4th or 5th grade when i realized that dice were the most useful tools for chance decision making. It is a habit i have refined over the years and i can't leave home without dice without feeling insecure. But more about dice later.
Last, i want to mention the influence books had on me in my 11th year. When i was in 6th grade, i precociously decided that i was too old for juvenile books. That's why i missed so many great young adult novels until i had my own child. When i made this decision, the movie version of The Exorcist was new and news reported viewers barfing in theaters. That seemed pretty cool to my 11 year old sensibilities. Too young to get into the movie, i decided to read the book. It was my first adult read. The second was Carrie by Stephen King. Then i started smuggling books on sex and drugs out of my parents bookstore. Not that i had actually encountered sex or drugs yet, but the boomer scientist in me just had to learn. Those early studies helped me to navigate my teen years with fewer problems than i might have had had i been navigating without information. Those experiences form the seminal basis in my opposition to censorship.

So i am now a rather OCD 47 year old who needs to quit pounding this keyboard. Since i have created an outline of things i intend to eventually blog, i thought this background might prove useful in explaining what will follow. I hope i haven't bored you.