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10 Independent Bookstores To Get Cozy With This Winter

Micawber's Books

Image courtesy of Moon Palace

Courtesy Once Upon A Crime

Courtesy Subtext Books

Courtesy Moon Palace

Searching for a book to get lost in? Ditch your computer and mobile devices, and plan a day trip exploring these distinct and community-minded local bookstores, many of which are celebrating decade birthdays in 2015.

St. Paul

Micawber’s Books
2238 Carter Avenue, St. Paul
(651) 646-5506 or [email protected]
Hours: Monday-Friday 11am-7pm, Saturday 10am–5pm, Sunday 11am-5pm

Eleven years ago, Tom Bielenberg became the owner of Micawber’s Books along with Hans Weyandt (who left the book business last year). A fixture in the St. Anthony Park neighborhood of St. Paul since 1972, Micawber’s is housed in a quaint “European village” built in 1910. The store has charming built-ins, an old fireplace and a large wooden desk.

“This may not be the biggest store,” Bielenberg says, “but we have an interesting selection”—which includes small press, specialty and independently published books.

Micawber’s is a beloved neighborhood institution that hosts writing groups and readings by local authors. The Little Wine Shoppe next door hosts wine tastings at Micawber’s. Last year, to ensure the bookshop’s continued success, neighbors and customers met to brainstorm marketing and social media ideas to bring more people into the store.

Whether customers are perusing the mystery, poetry, literature or children’s sections, Bielenberg is available for conversation. “I’m not an absentee owner,” he says. “You walk in to Micawber’s and I’m here. And I love to hear about the books people want.” He’ll also special order customer requests and sign customers up for the frequent buyers’ club—which includes discounts.

“I have roots in this neighborhood and that gives this store a personal connection,” he says. “The best compliment I can get is when someone comes in and sees a book they have never seen anywhere else. That’s why I’m here.”

Midway Used and Rare Books
1579 University Avenue, St. Paul
(651) 644-7605, [email protected]
Hours: Monday-Friday 10am-7pm, Saturday 10am-6pm, Sunday 12-6pm

Kathy and Tom Stransky have owned Midway Used and Rare Books for 30 years. Established in 1965, Midway is the oldest used bookstore in the Twin Cities and celebrates its 50th year in 2015.

“We have three floors of used, rare and collectible books—from reading copies to collectible copies,” says Kathy Stransky. “We also carry vintage magazines, and new and collectible comic books.”

At Midway, each book is handpicked with an emphasis on the quality of the book, popularity and its condition. “We have the largest art book collection in the Midwest,” adds Tom Stransky.

Midway’s sheer scope of inventory is daunting. The shelves hold literally thousands of accessible, low-cost books. “And aside from our rare books,” Kathy explains, “prices are usually half of the original cost or less. We work hard to offer the best possible market prices on all our inventory.”

Despite its scope, Midway is strong community asset. “Brick and mortar stores offer a place for people to interact with thousands of books that are nestled up to one another,” Kathy says. “It's one of the most nourishing environments that can be experienced. We love serving people who share our love of books.”

Subtext Books
165 Western Avenue, St. Paul
(651) 493-2791, [email protected]
Hours: Monday-Saturday 9am-9pm, Sunday 10am-6pm

Sue Zumberg has a flair for combining the new with the old. Her bookstore, Subtext Books, has only been around for two and a half years. But the location? It’s historic.

“Ever heard of Cathedral Hill?” Zumberg asks. “Subtext is just two blocks west of the St. Paul Cathedral in a beautiful Victorian from 1887. We are literally underground—located beneath Nina's Cafe in the Blair Arcade building.”

The store offers new and used books, as well as store credit to those giving old books new life within its shelves. Regarded as the neighborhood’s bookstore, its eclectic array of poetry, literature and fiction is not the only thing for which Subtext is known.

“We also want to be a place for neighborhood gatherings,” she explains. “We host AA meetings here before we open. We offer meeting space to business associations and councilpersons. And we have a stage. Right now it’s being used mostly for authors and musicians, but it’s a dream of ours to host a play.”

Subtext also has, curiously, a display of dog leashes and collars for sale. “Those are there simply because I’m a dog lover and I wanted them,” Zumberg says. “Lots of book lovers are dog people too!”

Red Balloon Bookshop
891 Grand Avenue, St. Paul
(651) 224-8320, [email protected]
Hours: Monday-Friday 10am-8pm, Saturday 10am-6pm, Sunday 12-5pm

While strolling down Grand Avenue, you’ve probably noticed the ceramic red balloon adorning this bookshop’s quaint outdoor signage.

“We connect readers with authors, illustrators and each other,” says Holly Weinkauf, who has owned Red Balloon Bookshop for three years. “Like any local business, bookstores are essential for a healthy local economy—keeping jobs and money right here in our community.”

The bookstore boasts a wide selection of books for kids and young adults—in addition to a well-curated section of fiction and nonfiction books for grownups. “We have an enthusiastic staff eager to help you find the book that you or your young reader will love,” Weinkauf says. “Throughout the year we also host fun, engaging events—many with other small businesses through cross-promotions or shared events.”

This year marks Red Balloon’s 30th birthday. That milestone couldn’t have happened without loyal customers. “We are so grateful to be in a book-loving community and look forward to many more years of being part of the fabulous book world,” Weinkauf enthuses.

Common Good Books
38 S. Snelling Avenue, St. Paul
(651) 225-8989, [email protected]
Hours: Monday-Saturday 9am-9pm, Sunday 10am-7pm

Common Good Books opened in 2006 to a lot of press, due to its celebrated owner/proprietor, Garrison Keillor. At the time of its relocation to the Macalester neighborhood in 2012, Martin Schmutterer was the manager and David Enyeart the assistant manager.

“We are fortunate to have an adventurous base of customers,” Enyeart says. “We’re able to delve deep into publishers’ lists and stock the obscure, strange or even rarely-requested academic.”

The store, which is located close to several other local businesses, also has a children’s section. “In the back of the store we have books and even toys and games for kids,” Enyeart says. “Right now the buzz is about the Sandra Boynton toy rabbits.”

Common Good also hosts free poetry readings and local and national author tours. “Our events are a very easy way to try something new,” he says, “and come away with something unique after meeting an author in person.”

Enyeart stresses the importance of shopping locally. “At bookstores, nearly 60 percent of your dollar stays in the community. That’s such a benefit to our community!”

“But more than that, bookstores aren’t just a place to buy books. They are a comfortable place to talk to others and get recommendations for the unexpected. Online stores use algorithms to base their book recommendations. Algorithms aren’t able to surprise and delight you. Conversations and sharing ideas with other people are.”


Paperback Exchange
2227 W. 50th Street, Minneapolis
(612) 929-8801, [email protected]
Hours: Monday-Thursday 10am-8pm, Friday-Saturday 10am-5:30pm, Sunday 12-4pm

Established in 1975, Paperback Exchange has been owned by Andrew Hersey for 26 years. “We’re celebrating 40 years in 2015,” he says, “and we are still offering community-curated books.”

“Unlike other stores, we’re not editing what comes in and goes out. We offer both store credit and a discount for the books sold to us. It’s an open exchange” that results in ever-changing stock.

On the shelves are new books, local authors and classics, as well as vintage and collectible items. Andrew respects the “culture of books,” as he calls it, or physically being around books and appreciating them on another level.

“Browsing books on the Internet doesn’t connect you” with other people, he explains. “Talking to others about books creates a community. Sometimes you just have to see a book in person to know you want it. And let’s face it, going to a bookstore gets you out of the house!”

Once Upon a Crime
604 W. 26th Street, Minneapolis
(612) 870-3785 or [email protected]
Hours: Monday-Saturday 11am-5:30pm, closed Sundays, open late for events

Once Upon a Crime, established in 1987, was purchased in 2002 by the husband and wife duo of Gary Shulze and Pat Frovarp, who consider themselves “informal, low-tech and happy to provide suggestions,” Frovarp says.

“Our store is about 95 percent crime fiction,” Shulze says. “The rest is made up of nonfiction, biographies, young adult and miscellaneous.” Once Upon a Crime hosts about 75 book signings per year, by both local and international authors.

Once Upon a Crime is a specialty store in elite company: the shop is one of about 30 mystery-genre specialty bookstores in the country. Thousands of new mysteries and thrillers, as well as a large collection of rare volumes, occupy the shelves.

“If you want rare, you have to visit The Annex,” Shulze says “It’s full of out-of-print, impossible-to-find and collectible books ranging from cheap to ridiculous.”

In 2011, the Mystery Writers of America honored Once Upon A Crime with its Raven Award, on display in the store. The award recognizes outstanding achievement in the mystery field outside the realm of creative writing.

Magers & Quinn Booksellers
3038 Hennepin Avenue South
(612) 822-4611
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 10am-10pm, Friday-Saturday 10am-11pm

Bookstores and historical buildings go together like paper and pen. Magers & Quinn Booksellers is no exception.

In 1994, the bookstore opened in the Bryant Building, which was built in 1922 and originally housed a Chevrolet dealership. “The front of the store used to be the car showroom,” explains manager Jessi Blackstock, who has worked at Magers & Quinn for nearly 17 years. “The back was the garage. All in all, we have 8,000 square feet of books, making us the Twin Cities' largest independent book store.”

At Magers & Quinn it’s possible to get lost in among the charming, mismatched shelves and endearing displays. “I love to overhear people marveling at how large our store is,” says Blackstock. “We carry new, used and discounted titles all side by side. We curate on a book-by-book basis, which makes for a wide variety of titles and prices.”

Adds Blackstock: “Without the corporate structure, local bookstores like Magers & Quinn can carry a wider selection. Employees and community members have a say in what’s on our shelves. But I’m not in the business of detouring anyone from getting a book in their hands. Reading is too important.”

Moon Palace Books
2820 E. 33rd Street, Minneapolis
(612) 454-0455 or [email protected]
Hours: Monday-Saturday 12-6:30pm, Sunday 12-4pm

Angela and Jamie Schwesnedl have owned Moon Palace Books for two years. Located in South Minneapolis near Peace Coffee Wonderland Park, Moon Palace is “a small neighborhood bookstore,” says Angela Schwesnedl. “Like any locally owned business, our store has taken on the characteristics and personality of its owners.”

For instance, Moon Palace carries e-books. “We don’t judge!” says Schwesnedl with a laugh.

Moon Palace also carries fiction, Midwest authors and what Schwesnedl refers to as “books on how to do good things.” The store also hosts book clubs and events.

“Stores like ours build relationships and a sense of community,” she says. “It’s such a different experience than shopping online. And that’s an important experience for people to have!”

Uncle Hugo's Science Fiction Bookstore
Uncle Edgar's Mystery Bookstore

2864 Chicago Avenue South, Minneapolis
(612) 824-9984 or [email protected]
Hours: Monday-Friday 10am-7pm (winter hours), Saturday 10am-6pm, Sunday 12-5pm

The oldest independent science-fiction bookstore in America was founded in 1974, with Don Blyly ensconced as the owner for the last 40 years. Uncle Edgar's Mystery Bookstore opened for business in a nearby location in 1980. The stores were moved to their current, shared location in 1984.

“We have the largest selection of new and used science fiction, fantasy and mystery books in the world,” Blyly says, and clientele from all over the U.S. Blyly can tell the difference between locals and out-of-town customers.

“The out-of-towners stand and stare in awe at the size of our selection,” he says. “The locals seem to take the huge selection for granted. I don't think Twin Cities’ book buyers realize that the book selection within the metro area is larger than almost anywhere else in the U.S.”

Uncle Hugo’s and Uncle Edgar’s offer other distinctive genres. “A former store manager had a special interest in nautical adventures, especially Napoleonic era. How’s that for unique?” Blyly says. “So we have a significant selection of new and used historical military novels, mainly Roman Empire through Napoleonic era.”

Universal favorites in the mystery category, for instance, are also available. “People are also often surprised by how large our selections of new and used Sherlock Holmes books, used true crime books and used science fiction magazines are when they visit the stores,” Blyly says.

“Local bookstores select the books to carry based on the personal tastes of the owners and managers, providing a more varied selection than you'll find at chain stores,” he explains. “When you buy from a locally owned, independent bookstore, a lot more of the money you spend will stay in the local economy.”

Gina Dewink is the Communications & Development Manager at Urban Roots MN.

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