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Sam Weller's marks it's 80th year selling books

Sam Weller's Bookstore celebrated its 80th anniversary Saturday on a leaden morning that seemed to echo the uncertain state of the bookselling business.

The windows of the store were papered both with signs announcing the shop's birthday and its sale to thin its inventory before moving to a smaller, less expensive location.

"There has been a real rapid decline in book readership," says Tony Weller, the son of the shop's namesake and its current owner. Sitting amid Sam Weller's collection of rare books on the second floor of the shop, Weller, like his trade, seems from another time.

He is named after the Tony Weller character from Charles Dickens' "Pickwick Papers." He wears round spectacles and black-and-white wingtip shoes — clothing that belies his youth as a punk rocker.

He carries with him three color-coded dice, which he takes from his pocket and rolls to "overcome indecision" whenever it intersects with his life.

To demonstrate how he could use dice to select four of his 30 favorite books for a "staff favorites" display, he rolls the three dice, landing a 2, a 6 and a 4.

It is a very complicated explanation, but the second book on the display is "The Dice Man" by Luke Rhinehart.

"There's a whole community of dice rollers. Most started rolling with him, but I didn't," Weller says.

Weller, now in his late 40s, has worked at the bookstore since he was 10 years old. His grandfather, Gustav Weller, opened the shop in 1929 when he acquired a collection of Mormon readings.

By 1970, Gustav Weller's more liberal son, Sam, had taken over the shop and changed its name from Zion Bookstore.

Sam Weller died in March of this year.

The store has changed a great deal over the years. It has moved five times since it first opened in downtown Salt Lake City and now features a coffee shop and a section for erotic books.

"Each generation has become more open-minded," Weller says.

On the milestone anniversary, with a great deal of uncertainty ahead, Weller says he is committed to keeping his family's business open, wherever that is.

"This is all I have ever done. I love this," he says. "We're not thinking of this as a sad, smaller Sam Weller's. We've been thinking of this as the next version of an old family tradition."

e-mail: mgonda@desnews.com