Prospero’s Books is located in a historic building that was built in 1890 that is one of the oldest operating retail spaces in Kansas City, Missouri. For its first 20 years, the building housed a grocery store, then a hardware store for 90 years after that. That history can still be seen in some of the architectural details: the pressed-tin ceiling and exposed brick walls are ornamented with original art, and library ladders roll across the wooden floors.
The shop is co-owned by Tom Wayne and Will Leathem, who opened their store on November 19, 1997—the anniversary of the famous Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company. The shop extends across three floors, which are filled with tens of thousands of used books, vinyl records, CDs, movies, and more. Most of their basement bookshelves allow people to write on them. Both co-owners live in the neighborhood, and one of them is nearly always behind the counter.
Prospero’s is very involved and supportive of the local arts community, often hosting live events such as concerts and readings. In 2007, a performance art piece that brought international attention to the independent bookstore. Wanting to make a statement about the decline of reading in the United States, Wayne and Leathem began burning piles of used books from the massive collection they had amassed and were unable to sell, donate, or give away. The project’s motto came from the poet Joseph Brodsky: “There are worse crimes than burning books. One is not reading them.”
Know Before You Go
You should bring a pencil if you want to write on bookshelves while you're there.