Why Kennedy’s is closing and what the Kennedy family will miss most


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Rick Childress

Kennedy’s is closing its doors for good on Dec. 22, in large part because of the internet.

General manager Carol Kennedy Behr said her father made the store successful because it had the most used textbooks—a cheap alternative for college students—but now, with large online retailers like Amazon and eBay, Kennedy’s no longer has the advantage.

“My father built the business on more used books,” Behr said. “Well then all of sudden, we didn’t have the more used books—the world had the more used books.”

Competition with the UK bookstore, which has been backed by larger national corporations like Barnes and Noble, was never a problem.

In April, the Kennedy family sold its location to Core Campus Investment Partners, the Herald-Leader reported. But in June, CCI swapped the property, along with the property where the Fazoli’s used to be, for a different parcel of land. UK is now the owner of the property that Kennedy’s and the former Fazoli’s sits on.

UK spokesman Jay Blanton said UK has made no final decision on the land, but is reviewing a “number of options.”

“I can highly surmise that it will be a parking lot,” Behr said. “That’s my only disappointment with UK. For years, I’ve talked with several people over there that said they want to buy this property, but I’ve politely said ‘no’ many times.”

So, she sold it to a company that she thought would have a more exciting concept. She wanted it to be a corner that she’d still be proud of, aesthetically speaking.

Joe Kennedy, the man who founded Kennedy’s in 1950, started the store after working at a bookstore near the University of Indiana’s campus.

“He loved buying and selling the books,” Behr said of her father. “He wasn’t so much into reading them.”

He was in a class once where they were analyzing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” but struggled to relate.

“He said, ‘It just wasn’t relative to me,’” Behr said her World War II veteran father told her. “’I’d taken a luger off a dead German, and this just wasn’t meaningful.’”

Joe moved to Lexington and opened Kennedy’s Bookstore and was almost immediately successful, as he capitalized on the idea of selling cheaper, used textbooks to college students—a new idea at the time.

The store was the pride and joy of the Kennedy family.

“They were tunnel vision. This is our life,” Behr said of her parents. “Six days a week—book store. Seventh day—church. That’s what they did.”

Behr said she is going to miss her employees—many of whom were or are college students—and the legions of UK students who have flocked to Kennedy’s for textbooks and UK apparel.

As her father’s only child, Behr grew up around the store.

“I would come down with my dad every Saturday and hang,” Behr said. “Maybe straighten up the cards or wipe down the counters. Then when I was in junior high I would ride my bike down after school, and throw my bike in his station wagon and go home with him. So, I would work almost every day after school.”

Behr went away for college but would work at the bookstore during her summers and breaks. She and her husband moved to Florida, but eventually made her way back to Lexington in 1986 and became the general manager in 1991.

From a very young age, Behr worked around the college kids that she would spend much of her working life with.

“[As a kid] the college students were my idols,” she said. “They were so old and wise and fun. They would push me around on the book cart.”

As Behr got older, she began to see the students as equals.

“Then it got to be where they were my buddies. In the summer we’d go out to Two Keys and have a beer together.”

As manager, Behr said they’d still go and get beers together.

“The joy of being around them has stayed the same,” she said.