Books, art, and amiability
Before Your Quiet Eyes is a hidden Monroe Avenue treasure
Located at 439 Monroe Avenue toward the back of the parking lot, past Eli’s B&W Bar and Voula’s Greek Sweets, through two doors, then at the end of a hallway, Before Your Quiet Eyes is not (as in the 1950s song) Hernando’s Hideaway; it is Ken Kelbaugh’s bookstore. And the doors open easily, without a special knock, to patrons who love the books, art objects, comfortable seating, and amiability.
Why “Before Your Quiet Eyes”? Kelbaugh will explain the name when needled, but just the experience of being in his store will tell you. If you search the store with attentive, “quiet” eyes, you just may find a special book, piece of pottery, framed painting or drawing, or even a social opportunity.
Within the store you can find items like a special collection of leather-bound books published by the early-twentieth-century Roycroft Press in East Aurora. Roycroft was part of the Arts and Crafts community complex that employed as many as 400 idealistic craftsmen. Kelbaugh’s desire to own some of these books helped spark his decision to become a bookseller in 2004. The working philosophy of the Roycroft community was “to work with the head, hand, and heart … mixing in enough play so that every [pleasurable] task … makes for health and happiness.” This philosophy corresponds nicely to Kelbaugh’s fun- loving approach in managing Before Your Quiet Eyes.
Determination and enthusiasm
Before opening his store, Kelbaugh worked for forty years first in a Rochester nonprofit and then in the Rochester City School District, actively supporting Rochester adolescents and their families. Proud of his work with both youngsters and adults, he conducts his private life with the same determination and enthusiasm. He met his wife, Dorothy Wilkins, in 1986, at the Rochester Institute of Tech- nology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf while learning sign language in order to communicate with deaf clients. Determined to get to know her better, he asked her, his then instructor at NTID, for private tutoring. Though it took time for her to realize he had ulterior motives, Kelbaugh energetically convinced her to marry him in 1989. Both of German and European ancestry, they have traveled together in northern Europe, meeting Dorothy’s family in Mayen, Germany, along the way.
As a child Kelbaugh enjoyed family reading time. Later in life he would accompany his collector sister Margie to book auctions. He eventually succumbed to the appeal of collecting, too, especially when he recognized he could obtain a particular book he wanted as part of a lot and pay himself back by selling the rest. in 2004, just before retirement, he opened his store online. He opened his brick-and-mortar store on Monroe Avenue in 2007.
Kelbaugh collects and sells books, art, vintage pottery, and record albums. He has unique collections on local and New York history; Jewish history; accounts of the immigrant experience; poetry by local, American, and international poets; literature about deafness and other disabilities; collectible and rare books; and hardcover and paperback books for leisure reading. While Before Your Quiet Eyes is a treasure for browsers, Kelbaugh also aims to make his physical space a venue for cultural and community activities. Hosting Rochester arts groups since 2003, Kelbaugh has made Before Your Quiet Eyes a home to the Just Poets; the Ground and Sky discussion group; and others that read, discuss, or display writing, ideas, and art. Reminiscent. of his family’s traditional evening readings, Kelbaugh offers a voice, warm hospitality, and, sometimes, a special Voula’s treat to Rochesterians who often become regulars. The store has garnered at least one interesting reward: the luscious curtains for the side and rear picture windows, custom designed and fabricated by Karen Faris, a local poet and artist.
Mistake or opportunity?
Entering the book trade later in life, Kelbaugh humbly claims not to know as much as other booksellers, even though many people come to him for help in finding special books. But he believes he’s learned a good deal not only from those very customers but also from some earlier not-so-brilliant endeavors—like the time, at Syracuse University, when he took on an interview with Professor Saul Bellow, not yet having read any of his books.
But learning from mistakes and taking advantage of opportunities are two traits that, in Kelbaugh’s case, make for advancement. His newest initiative, the Holograph Series of his Before Your Quiet Eyes Publications publishing house, occurred partly based, not on his, but on an eventual friend’s mistake. It began in about 2003, when Kelbaugh attended a book fair and ran into someone selling a stash of Brockport Reading Series books at a great price. After a little while, when the value of the series had risen considerably, the same man who sold it to him got in touch. He wanted to buy the Brockport Series books back. It turned out to be William Heyen, a poet who was himself featured in the series. Heyen offered to pay the higher price in order to buy the books back. Having recognized by now his buyer’s identity, Kelbaugh, a true gentleman, offered to deliver the books. And as a prelude to meeting Heyen in person and to avoid a Saul Bellow flop, Kelbaugh did thorough research on Heyen. Thus began a long-lasting friendship.
In fact, in 2019 the first book in Kelbaugh’s new publishing venture was YAWP: Heyen’s Whitman, a collection that includes a poem in Heyen’s own handwriting, a feature of the new house’s Holograph series. I suppose you could say Kelbaugh knows how to aim with his quiet eyes and enthusiastic goodwill to make the most of his passions.
Before Your Quiet Eyes 439 Monroe Ave.
Open Wed.–Sat., 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.