Prospero’s Books and Media, Kansas City, Missouri

Following a brief rainstorm, I pulled onto the block approaching Prospero’s Books and Media to find a rainbow whose end arched right into the shop. It was a perfectly fitting metaphor for the literary pot of gold that is this Kansas City, Missouri, institution. 

Prospero’s opened its doors in 1997. The shop’s website shares its colorful history. Some excerpts: 

Birthed on a bar stool less than 50 feet from its front door, Prospero’s fills an historic 1890 building originally housing a grocery store its first 20 years and a hardware store for the next 90 – very possibly the longest continually operated retail space in KC…On a cold November 19th, Prospero’s opened on the anniversary of Silvia Beach’s famed Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company – the birthplace of the Moderns (Hemingway, Picasso, Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, etc.). Prospero’s quickly earned a reputation as home to a significant portion of Kansas City’s literary, music and arts scene…During its off hours, Prospero’s maintains a selection of books outside on its sidewalks 24-7 for those visiting at the nearby KU Medical Center or traveling the bus lines after hours or those simply in need of a read. Individuals are encouraged to slip $ beneath the door. In addition, Prospero’s maintains free book boxes throughout the urban core.

Prospero’s is owned and operated by Tom Wayne and Will Leathem, both of who live in the neighborhood and one of whom is almost always behind the counter. It had been a long day, and I was in the shop near closing time, so I didn’t take the opportunity to fully engage the gentleman behind the counter. I’m sure it was one of the two!

Entering the three-story shop is like stepping into a literary wonderland. You’ll find the requisite display tables and tall, wooden shelves throughout the space, along with a flurry of quirky additions full of character, whether it’s a shoe nailed to the wall, graffiti on the shelves, quotes written into concrete, a giant high-heel chair, or a floor-to-ceiling stack of books serving as a makeshift support column (or at least giving the appearance of such).

Upstairs serves as an event space and features more books, along with some vinyl albums and CDs. The lower level, with its dim lighting and low ceilings, is a fantastic series of shelves containing a treasure trove of books, with plenty more eccentric décor to catch the eye. 

I am often asked what is my favorite kind of bookstore. My usual answer is “any kind.” But if pressed for specifics, the kind of bookshop Prospero’s has crafted is certainly near the top of the list.

Prospero’s Books and Media is located at 1800 West 39th Street, Kansas City, Missouri. Open daily.

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