KB Books closing its doors after 32 years in business

by Natalia Xibille, Staff Writer

After 32 years, KB Books will close its doors for good.

KB Books CEO and Founder Ken Appel is planning to close all his stores, including the SDSU store and the San Diego Mesa College store, some time this summer.

Appel, along with two of his friends, started KB Books as a phone order and delivery operation in 1984 while attending UC San Diego. He said it was the “arrogance” of the UCSD bookstore that prompted him to start up KB Books.

“It’s not like (they were there) to serve you, it’s more like you have no other choice so wait your turn and (they’ll) do the best (they) can,” he said.

KB Books, which stands for kick back books, opened at SDSU in 1986 and has been serving students and faculty ever since, but due to its current financial situation Appel is forced to shut it down.

“It’s just not viable,” he said. “In the last year I’ve basically worked for free and I just can’t do that anymore.”

Appel said KB Books’ lower profits and increasing costs are due in large part to competitors such as Aztec Shops and online carriers.

Those online carriers like Chegg and Amazon can withstand million dollar losses unlike KB Books, Appel said.

In 2014, Chegg lost $64.75 million, according to Chegg’s annual income statement.

While Chegg and Amazon have the benefit of being able to absorb large financial losses, Aztec Shops, being a nonprofit organization, has the benefit of being exempt from certain payments such as property taxes, income taxes and rent for establishments on campus.

However, for off-campus businesses these payments are required, so the third-party renters must pick up the payments.   

Appel said this grants Aztec Shops the resources to buy out properties and create a “monopoly” within the College Area.

In 2012, Aztec shops bought the KB Books building for $3 million. Once the lease was up in 2014, Appel said they increased his rent by 32 percent and his property taxes by roughly 18 percent.

“I kind of knew that as soon as that happened, our days were numbered,” Appel said. “Anytime your landlord is your competitor, and not a very friendly competitor … you worry.”

Aztec Shops also currently owns Bruxie, Albert’s College Apartments, Bangkok Poco The Restaurant, Piedra Del Sol and Fraternity Row.   

R.D. Williams, Aztec Shops’ director of business development and contract housing, said the purchasing of all these properties is meant to support and benefit the students.

“It’s our role to purchase properties to support the needs of students,” Williams said. “The purchasing of the College Avenue properties are all part of the long-term development program for South Campus Plaza.”

Appel said he worries about the impact Aztec Shops’ “monopoly” will have on students and fellow independent business owners.

“The original intent of this business was to provide students with alternatives and to make sure that they weren’t being taken advantage of and I feel like us leaving the marketplace puts them in a much riskier place to be taken advantage of and I would hate to see that,” Appel said.

Students such as social work sophomore Ariana Franco share Appel’s concerns.

“If it wasn’t for KB Books I wouldn’t have been able to save money throughout my two years that I’ve been here,” Franco said. “With KB Books closing that’s most likely going to mean I’m going to have to go through the bookstore where the prices are more expensive.”

According to SDSU Newscenter, undergraduate students pay $1,818 a year for books and supplies. Appel believes this will increase once KB Books leaves the market.

“Aztec Shops is going to jack up their prices,” Appel said. “There’s a lot of things that are available online, but a lot of books are custom made for SDSU and there are only two entities that sell them (KB Books and Aztec Shops).”

Appel said he is sad to be closing after 32 years, but he is looking forward to the next chapter in his life.

“I want to say thank you to faculty and students,” he said. “Everyone has been very supportive and I’m sad to go, but it’s time to move on to other things.”

KB Books will continue to provide textbook services online and may possibly offer an online textbook service specifically for SDSU students in the future.

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