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  • SOUTHERN UTAH MEMORIES: R&K Bookstore drew loyal patrons from the tri-state area
    by Loren Webb
    Published - 07/28/13 - 08:50 AM | 1 1 comments | 345 345 recommendations | email to a friend | print
    Kaylene Preston,Brittnee Bennett, her granddaughter, Kenna Bowler, her daughter, and employee Jeanie Bennett chat while working at R & K Bookstore. The bookstore carried LDS books and art work from 1976 to 2005 when it closed. (Photo is courtesy of KayLene Preston)
    Kaylene Preston,Brittnee Bennett, her granddaughter, Kenna Bowler, her daughter, and employee Jeanie Bennett chat while working at R & K Bookstore. The bookstore carried LDS books and art work from 1976 to 2005 when it closed. (Photo is courtesy of KayLene Preston)
    slideshow
    KayLene and Ken Preston were the guiding force behind the R & K Bookstore, which first operated at 136 East City Center and then at 136 East Tabernacle for 29.5 years. (Photos is courtesy of KayLene Preston)
    KayLene and Ken Preston were the guiding force behind the R & K Bookstore, which first operated at 136 East City Center and then at 136 East Tabernacle for 29.5 years. (Photos is courtesy of KayLene Preston)
    slideshow
    (ST. GEORGE, Utah) - When Ken and KayLene Preston opened R&K Bookstore in St. George in 1976, a Mr. Walden from Bookcraft Publishing cut their first book order in half, thinking they would never be able to break into the LDS book market in Utah’s Dixie.

    Almost immediately, however, the Prestons sold most of their existing book orders and when KayLene called Mr. Walden back, she said “ ‘We need the rest of the (book) order and you will pay for the freight’ – and he did.”

    And for the next twenty nine and a half years, this family- operated business became a main stay in the St. George area.

    The Prestons, however, came into retail book sales somewhat by accident.

    Ken was born in Declo, Idaho, actually being delivered at home by a Sister Darrington, a neighbor of the family, while KayLene was born in Preston, Idaho, and raised in Kimberly, Idaho. They were both working at Young’s Dairy in Twin Falls, Idaho, where they fell in love and were married. Here, they started their family, but then lost two children, a boy and a girl.

    Meanwhile, due to a short illness, Ken Preston decided to switch careers, and went to barber school in Salt Lake City. After finishing school, the Prestons returned to Idaho where they opened a barbershop in Rupert. They ran the barber shop for four years.

    In the LDS Pella Ward they attended, Ken Preston was called as a librarian with five assistants – one assistant for each church auxiliary. Ward leaders then ordered church books for the library to sell to members.

    But this practice drew the attention of the state government which said the ward would have to pay taxes on the book sales. So the stake president (religious leader over the equivalent of a Catholic diocese) asked the Prestons if they would take the LDS Church books home and start a bookstore from their home. In addition to running the bookstore and barbershop, the Prestons farmed 40 acres of hay.

    The Prestons built a book shelf in the front room of their home for ward members to come in and peruse and then order books they were interested in. The number of patrons increased during the holidays.

    “We got to where we had a great relationship with Deseret Book and Bookcraft Publishers,” KayLene said.

    But it was on a family trip to Disneyland in Southern California that drew their interest to the St. George area.

    “I said to Ken, ‘lets buy a home and rent it out until we are ready to retire here,” KayLene said. “We had a warm feeling.”

    On their return trip from California, “we came back through St. George and we had that same warm feeling about St. George,” she said. “So we went home and sold all the animals on the farm and put the home and farm up for sale and moved to St. George.”

    On their way to St. George in 1976, they stopped in Salt Lake City where they placed a large book order with Bookcraft Publishers, which promptly cut the order in half because Mr. Walden didn’t believe there was a large enough market for LDS books where existing businesses were already selling the books.

    The Prestons also had trouble finding a location for their bookstore. In their travels around St. George, they noticed a fabric shop on the end of City Center near the Dixie Bowl and Recreation Center, and approached Merv Reber, who owned the land in City Center.

    Ken asked if the fabric store could be moved to the rear of the building at 136 East City Center. Mr. Reber hesitated, then said okay to the proposal. Three months later, the owners of the fabric store moved out of the building and everyone was happy, KayLene said.

    To get ready for opening the bookstore, Ken started building book shelves. Each week, more bookshelves were added to the store’s interior.

    “One night we were working late, and here came Steve Creamer. He stepped over two by four boards and asked ‘Have you got a Mormon Doctrine book?’”

    “We hadn’t even opened yet,” KayLene said, so when the bookstore finally opened a short time later, they had a good response.

    One of the reasons for its initial success was that their children, Richard, Kyle, Kenna and Kayla delivered fliers all over town, announcing the store’s opening. The name R and K comes from Richard and the rest of the family’s first name all started with “Ks” so that is how they chose the name for the bookstore.

    As the bookstore grew in popularity, all four children worked in the store as they were growing up.

    Even so, the Prestons were conservative in how many books they ordered, initially ordering only two titles of a book. Once they were able to determine the demand for a particular book, they started ordering more copies of a book. They also began ordering more general interest books as well. They also carried copies of LDS scriptures. Also featured back then were leather-bound copies of the Articles of Faith and Jesus The Christ by LDS Apostle James E. Talmadge. The leather-bound copies were later discontinued. Another in-store service was imprinting names of patrons onto the books they purchased, “and the public liked that,” Kaylene said.

    As the store grew in popularity, it began to run out of space. When a laundromat closed two doors down, R&K Bookstore expanded into that area in 1978. The store operated with Ken and KayLene and one full-time employee.

    As word got out about the bookstore, patrons from Arizona and California began stopping at the bookstore when they came through the area, especially those visiting the nearby national parks. The bookstore also shipped lots of books to the Eastern United States.

    R&K’s competitors, Southern Utah Office Supply and Tri-State Office Supply, also increased the number of LDS books they carried.

    “We got along great with them (their competitors), “she said, noting that the stores would trade books, and if one bookstore didn’t have what the patron wanted, they would send the patron to the store that did have the book.

    The same year R&K Bookstore expanded into new building quarters, it also began carrying books featuring the national parks. The store owners also began receiving calls for out of print books.

    “There was such a demand for local history books,” KayLene said, “and we searched and found a lot of them.”

    As LDS novels began to be written, R&K Bookstore carried those titles. Then, after attending LDS bookseller conventions in Salt Lake City, the Prestons began carrying LDS and Christian art work.

    Patrons were now given a variety of reasons to shop at R&K Bookstore.

    “One day, a lady came in with her boy and she said, ‘My boy said, ‘Let’s go to the store where the man is whistling all the time.’”

    It was Ken Preston, the boy was referring to.

    “Ken was so full of fun and bubbliness in the store, that he just made people feel not only welcome – and people said they felt so comfortable,” Kaylene said. ‘Sometimes, people would just come in to talk to Ken and me, and we developed a bond that has been really wonderful.”

    People would ask, “Is he (Ken) always jovial at home like he is at the store?” And I would say, “What you see is what you get. He is that way all the time.”

    KayLene adds that “He (Ken) was knowledgeable and he had strong conservative opinions about politics.”

    She said there was one year when there was a lot of interest in national politics, and she said there was a lot of demand for political books. People from several surrounding states came to “R&K Bookstore looking for books they knew we had that weren’t carried anywhere else.

    A lot of books were located by the Prestons because of customer requests.

    Other highlights that occurred during the store’s history was when they brought in a baby grand piano for LDS pianist James O’Neil Miner who played music one afternoon for patrons to enjoy. On another occasion, the piano was brought out again for former St. George resident and now country music singer, Dan Truman of Diamond Rio. Dan, and his mother, Carol Truman took turns playing the piano and singing while the rest of the Truman family enjoyed the occasion.

    “It was a fun, fun afternoon,” Kaylene said.

    Then there was the day that singer and entertainer Marie Osmond stopped into the store. A store employee said to Marie, “ ‘Does anyone ever tell you, you look like Marie Osmond?”

    Marie kicked one leg backward, looked over her shoulder and with a smile she said, “I am her.”

    Because of the need for a bigger store building, R&K moved from 136 East City Center to 136 East Tabernacle in 1983. The store remained there until July 2005 when Ken Preston became very sick.

    Ken died on Sept. 1, 2005.

    People told KayLene, “ ‘We don’t know what we are going to do when the bookstore closes.’ “

    Often times, when KayLene goes out, people will give her a hug and say, “We still miss your bookstore. Nobody has the inventory like you had. “

    “The bonds that we made with customers and the fact that there were good books available to the people of St. George made it something special,” she said. “And we also felt a part of St. George.”

    Looking back over that time, KayLene said “it was an absolutely wonderful twenty nine and a half years. And after we took everything left in the store to Humanitarian Services, I have never missed the store one day, but I miss the people. When people come up to me and say, we miss you, that is all the blessing that you need.”

    Comments
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    Donna Messerly-Brown
    |
    July 30, 2013
    Great move bringing Loren Webb onto your team! He is truly a local treasure.
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