With loans and landlord’s help, Ken Sanders’ Salt Lake City bookstore gets a reprieve amid coronavirus crisis

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Ken Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 31, 2020.

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Salt Lake City’s small-business owners whose finances have been temporarily wrecked by the coronavirus crisis, take heart.

The owner and namesake of downtown’s Ken Sanders Rare Books said Tuesday that through a combination of emergency aid and help from his landlord, he appears to have a survival plan and his iconic store at 268 S. 200 East no longer faces imminent closure.

“I am feeling extremely grateful,” the 68-year-old store proprietor said. “It’s been a rough two weeks.”

Known throughout the Intermountain West as a breathing relic of Utah’s 1960s hippie counterculture, the bookstore had faced the prospect of demolition bulldozers as part of a historic surge in recent years in commercial building and redevelopment in Utah’s urban core.

Then came the coronavirus outbreak.

Walk-in customers to the store all but vanished overnight with coronavirus-related social distancing in Utah, and Sanders stared into a deep fiscal abyss just a fortnight ago. But he’s now approved for a low-interest bridge loan from Salt Lake City, letting him meet payroll and avoid laying off the store’s six workers.

“God bless our new Mayor Erin Mendenhall for understanding the problems and difficulties,” Sanders said of the city’s rapidly created $1 million emergency loan program for businesses facing coronavirus-related hardships.

Mendenhall said Tuesday the loan program, which is still accepting applicants through Thursday at midnight, was intended as a stopgap for Salt Lake City businesses to make payroll or pay rent until federal help kicks in.

“We’re so glad to see this program working for a Salt Lake City staple like Ken Sanders Rare Books,” the mayor wrote via email. “People want to know that when this is eventually over, they will be able to go back to the places they love, and Ken Sanders is that place for many residents.”

An official in the city’s Economic Development Department said 26 businesses got similar loans of between $5,000 and $20,000 in the first round of nearly 350 applications. At least 100 more applied in the second round, according to Ben Kolendar, the department’s acting director, but that is a rough number because the team processing them “is still inundated.”

“The heartbreaking reality,” Kolendar said, “is we know we won’t be able to help everyone.”

Sanders’ landlord, meanwhile, has reached out to offer up to six months’ delay on rent, he said, and promises to help with aid applications under the newly passed $2.2 trillion federal stimulus to cover repayment at the other end.

That package includes nearly $350 billion for what’s being called the Paycheck Protection Program, designed to funnel cash and loan forgiveness to thousands of small businesses in Utah and across the U.S. and let them keep paying their employees.

“These trillions of dollars, where are they going?” Sanders asked. “Well, it actually looks like some of this is going to come down to average people and not be, you know, some kind of corporate billionaire bailout.”

Now, residential developer Ivory Homes is saying that in light of complications from the coronavirus outbreak, the company will be taking a slower, more patient approach to its plans for demolishing Sanders’ store and other shops at that downtown corner to make way for new construction.

Ivory Homes had submitted that half-acre corner at 200 East and Broadway for this year’s Utah Real Estate Challenge, a design contest deploying intercollegiate teams to compete in developing the best plans for the corner’s future look and uses.

Knowledgeable sources have said the site is also a possible future locale for a state liquor outlet when the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control relocates its store at 205 W. 400 South.

But Skylar Tolbert, the development project’s manager at Ivory Homes, confirmed Tuesday that while designs will still be drawn up for the site, “in light of the current situation and everything that’s going on, we’re letting tenants know that process is going to slow down.”

The president of Ivory Homes’ development arm, Chris Gamvroulas, said the Utah-based company is working through rent deferrals for all half-dozen commercial tenants at that location, including Sanders, and exploring options through the stimulus’ infusion of coronavirus-related emergency loans to small businesses.

“This is about communicating and making sure they all are aware of the resources so that they can navigate this next period of economic uncertainty,” Gamvroulas said.

Sanders said he’s still in the fight of a lifetime to stay in business, in light of the unique hit to customer traffic and new complexities of running a small bookstore posed by stay-at-home orders and social distancing for workers meant to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“We’re trying to be creative,” he said. “We’re trying to sell more books online. We’re trying to get our customers to buy gift certificates.

“I’m telling you, this is a hell of a way to run a business: begging your customers for money,” Sanders said. “I don’t like that. But you know, what else am I going to do?"

Still, Sanders said there now are glimmers of hope his venerable store will make it through. News of relief and reprieve in recent days, he said, will probably mean “I get to be here at least through 2021 and maybe I’ll get to stay here until I retire.”

“Although,” Sanders added with mischief in his voice, “of course, I’ll never really retire.”