Chaucer's Books' new owners, Jen Lemberger and Greg Feitt, are looking to lead the bookshop into the future. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Chaucer’s Books, a Santa Barbara book lover’s haven for the past half-century, will begin its next chapter under new ownership after its original owner, Mahri Kerley — who opened the shop in 1974 and has run it ever since — agreed to sell and pass the torch to a couple of fellow bookworms, Jen Lemberger and Greg Feitt, who not only know the shop well, but also fell in love between the shelves nearly 20 years ago.

It’s a move that — although bittersweet due to its falling just before the 50th anniversary, Kerley says — is a fitting next step to keeping the legacy of the shop she opened up almost by accident all those years ago. And for Feitt, a longtime Chaucer’s employee who has worked his way up to general manager, and now co-owner, it’s a lifelong dream come true.

History: Humble Beginnings

“I grew up with my nose in books,” Mahri Kerley said of her childhood, describing memories of nights spent huddled underneath the covers, reading by flashlight, until the sun rose and she could come out from the covers and continue her reading by morning light.

She says she never planned on opening a bookshop, but that Chaucer’s came to be on a whim after some light nudging by her husband, who said she needed a place to put the hundreds of books that already filled their home.

Chaucer’s original owner, Mahri Kerley with the shop’s new owners, Greg Feitt and Jen Lemberger | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

“That’s how I ended up owning a bookstore,” Kerley said. “My husband told me, ‘You already buy so many books you might as well open a shop.’”

In the beginning, Chaucer’s took up a hole-in-the-wall 800-square-foot spot at Five Points shopping center, eking out a local following and eventually moving to its current — and much larger — location in Loreto Plaza in 1990.

In those decades, Kerley says she watched the industry and the world change drastically, and through it all, Chaucer’s kept growing its customer base by offering thousands of titles across a variety of genres that couldn’t be found at big box stores. And along the way, even after Amazon decimated the bookselling industry across the country, the shop remained a mainstay for its knowledgeable and friendly staff that Kerley kept by offering medical benefits, 401(k,) and competitive wages.

“It’s great having survived all the change,” Kerley said. “I’ve been doing it for 50 years.”

Now just a few months away from its 50th anniversary, Chaucer’s has outlasted some of the biggest in the business. Corporate stores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders are long gone from Santa Barbara, and although Chaucer’s ownership is changing hands, Kerley says the shop won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.

“That’s why I’m so happy to sell to somebody who grew up with the store,” Kerley said. “It definitely was important that it be owned by somebody who understood Chaucer’s.”

Romance: Between the Shelves

Greg Feitt, an avid reader, outrigger canoe paddler, former Marine, and self-described dog whisperer, has spent his entire life in Santa Barbara, where he remembers his bookworm days starting as a kid, browsing the shelves of Chaucer’s while his mother shopped for groceries a few doors down at Albertsons (now Gelson’s Market).

Throughout his life, at Laguna Blanca High School, Santa Barbara City College, and then at UC Santa Barbara, where he majored in labor history, Chaucer’s was always there when he needed a book fix.

Jen Lemberger — a former roller-derby skater turned librarian who also serves as chair of the city’s Community Development and Human Services Committee — came to Santa Barbara in the late ’90s from the Bay Area, where she remembers her own “book-nerd” days hopping around independent stores for new reads.

The two crossed paths as part-time employees at Chaucer’s, where Feitt began working in 2004. Lemberger, who had just graduated after double-majoring in studio art and biology at UCSB, joined the staff in 2005.

Lemberger says that Feitt caught her eye early on, and she made sure that they would be working in the same section — the history section — where they got to know each other while stocking shelves. In 2006, the pair started dating, and they have been together ever since, with their relationship cemented by their love of reading.

“We’ve both always been book nerds,” Lemberger said. “Our homes have always had overflowing shelves and piles of books.”

And while their tastes differ — Feitt prefers poetry or literary and historical fiction, whereas Lemberger leans toward magical realism, science fiction, and fantasy — they both “deeply believe reading and literacy are instrumental for creating empathy, curiosity, well-being, sense of belonging, and general individual and community success.”

Now, the storybook romance between the bookstore nerd and public librarian continues 19 years later, with the couple now leading the way for the shop where they found love.

Philosophy: Keepin’ it Chaucer’s

Feitt climbed the ladder at Chaucer’s, working his way up to become the shop’s book buyer and general manager in 2017. Throughout that time working in the shop, and even more so in recent years, the couple had a lingering thought of, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could own the place?”

Together, Feitt and Lemberger would discuss the logistics of it, whether they could financially make it happen, and whether Kerley would even consider selling the shop to them. At first, it all seemed hypothetical, and while Kerley began to express an intent to retire and sell the store, she never went as far as seeking an outside buyer. Then, in May 2021, Feitt let Kerley know that, if she was really thinking of selling, the pair would be interested.

From there, Feitt says, it was a “slow walk of conversations, reiterating our interest, and eventually moving into figuring out the details.”

Jen Lemberger and Greg Feitt met while restocking shelves in the History section at Chaucer’s 19 years ago; now the couple has taken over as owners. | Credit: Ingrid Bostrom

Working out these details came with its own set of challenges, as the reality of buying a business can sometimes be much more complicated than the idea of owning one. And Feitt and Lemberger wanted to assure Kerley that they wanted to keep the shop true to her vision.

“Realizing a dream is great, but in reality, there are the logistics, the contracts, the financing, etc.,” Feitt said. “We wanted to make sure throughout the process that we could actually fiscally do this, but also reassure Mahri that we weren’t looking at this as coming in and taking over.”

That means continuing to offer the same consistency and community-based focus that earned the shop its loyal customers.

“Chaucer’s is a community institution, and we want it to continue as such and continue her legacy,” Feitt said. “So, while we have ideas and tweaks for the future, Chaucer’s will remain Chaucer’s.”

Going forward, Lemberger and Feitt say they are excited to serve the community with the same events, reading, signings, and book-fair fundraisers that Chaucer’s always provides.

“Reading and learning and curiosity and comfort and new experiences and the windows and mirrors of stories are so important,” Feitt told the Independent. “Being able to connect a person to that one book is an amazing thing to be able to do day in and day out. If we can do that while also fostering relationships with our schools, nonprofits, local authors, and greater reading community, it’s a pretty perfect profession.”

For Kerley, who will be turning 80 this year, she is looking forward to taking her free time to work on her home and concentrate on her other love: music. She is actively involved in Santa Barbara’s classical music and opera scene, and says she looks forward to spending more time supporting local events.

Lemberger and Feitt will continue operating the shop with no interruptions in hours or service, and all scheduled events will proceed as planned. This November, Chaucer’s will celebrate its actual 50th anniversary with a series of events, including its traditional anniversary sale. For more information, visit

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