Seven Simply Amazing Independent Twin Cities Bookstores
Minnesota’s Twin Cities – Minneapolis and St. Paul – are filled with thriving independent bookstores. At a time when most indies are being pushed out by the bigger chains or online ordering, these stores continue to succceed. It might be the confessional inside one of them, or maybe the neighbors. It could be the location. It could be the murder and mayhem. Who knows? Regardless, I picked seven favorites to share.
Everyone has a story. The first time I walked into Birchbark Books a darling gentleman in a Mr. Rogers sweater asked if he could read me a story. He pulled Truman Capote’s A Christmas Memory from a nearby table and started reading. I was enchanted. And guess what? I bought the book right out of his hands.
The store is owned by story-teller extraordinaire, Louise Erdrich, whose work often includes characters of Native background, including her own tribe of Turtle Mountain Chippewa. The store exists as a place for “Literate Indigenous people who have survived over half a millennium on this continent.” They feature readings by Native and non-Native writers, journalists, historians and even adorable men in sweaters.
Must see: The confessional. It was rescued from an unknown fate at a bar. Owner, Louise, is putting a collage of her sins on the interior. A sign, hand printed, on the seat says, “Please do not enter. (Our insurance does not cover damnation.)”
People who know this bookstore don’t often remember its name, True Colors. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you it’s the Amazon Bookstore on that corner. But, as happens with the big guy vs. the little guy (or gal!), this amazing, oldest independent feminist bookstore in North America, had to change its name. They actually won a law suit to keep the name against the online business with the same name, but one of the lawsuit’s conditions was that if the store itself ever changed owners, the rights to the name went away. In 2008 the owners since 1970 sold to the current owner and the store became True Colors.
Their mission didn’t change, however. They still offer products that foster the “strength, wisdom, beauty and diversity of women, girls and their families,” their website reads. Inside the front door is a collection of literature carefully selected to appeal to their customers. Downstairs is a circle of couches and comfy chairs waiting for book discussions, women’s movie night and even a women’s drum circle gathering.
Must See: Their selection of children’s and young adult literature was one of the best in the Twin Cities. Also, if you need any LGBT stickers for your car, this is the place to go.
Everyone smiles when you walk into Micawbers. It kind of feels like you might have interrupted a good gossip session, or a game of chess. Or, maybe they’re just expecting one of the neighbors to walk in the door instead of a random stranger. Regardless, by the time your shopping is done at Micawbers, you’re ready to lease the closest apartment you can find to this bookstore. Everyone is a neighbor here.
Hans Weyandt, proprietor, told me he likes the store’s fit in the neighborhood. It’s a short walk to get groceries, a couple of blocks from a restaurant and an easy stop for neighbors who need a newspaper, magazine or book to read. The store opened in 1972 and has been owned by Weyandt since 2003.
Must see: Stand outside the front door and get a feel for the neighborhood. The sights, smells and sounds of the village are all around the store.
Wild Rumpus is and always will be my favorite bookstore. No trip to the Twin Cities is complete without stopping by the quaint store near beautiful Lake Harriet. It’s not the location that makes the store so amazing. It’s the magic inside. Look down. One of the old wood floorboards has been replaced with a glass plank. If you peek through, you’ll see the store’s pet rats scurry around. The cats with no tails, chickens on the book shelves (yes, real chickens), the fat lizard on the counter, the giant crack in the ceiling that reveals patrons are actually under the water because the bottom of a canoe sails overhead, and of course the well-selected array of children’s books make this store more magical than most stores in Diagon Alley.
Must see: Inside the bathroom, if you turn off the lights, the mirror over the sink magically becomes a fish aquarium.
Magers and Quinn
Magers and Quinn is a store that seems like it’s been there forever. The worn, but welcoming entrance beckons with the smell of ink and paper. It’s the Twin Cities’ largest independent bookseller in the heart of Uptown in Minneapolis, and probably the largest in the Midwest. Their collection is excellent and people go there to also find unusual and hard-to-find editions of their favorite tomes.
Must see: Go all the way to the back of the store. The collection and selection is better than most of the big box bookstores.
I wonder if the opening of Common Good Bookstore made the News from Lake Wobegon? Garrison Keillor, proprietor, should have mentioned the 2006 opening of his small bookstore in a historic St. Paul building right after the commercial for Powdermilk Biscuits on his show, A Prairie Home Companion. The store is tucked under a well-known coffee shop, Nina’s Coffee Café at the corner of Selby and Western. Bookstore junkies will find an excellent hand-selected assortment of quirky books. The travel section in the store is the best in the Twin Cities.
Must see: Look up at the literary quotes painted throughout the store. They are not the tired, well-known and overused quotes found in most bookstores.
Once Upon a Crime
Often mysteries and thrillers are segregated to a few aisles in a bookstore, but Once Upon a Crime focuses strictly on that genre. The well-known mystery bookstore has an extensive collection of every crime, thriller, cozy and mystery novel available today (and some that are no longer available). Because of their niche, the store is able to attract a lot of well-known mystery writers for readings and signings. Looking for a signed copy of a favorite mystery author? They likely have it. Owners Gary and Pat, were recently awarded the coveted Raven Award by the Mystery Writers of America. They proudly display the dark bird trophy in a cage in the store.
Must see: Gary and Pat are big fans of Minnesota mystery writers. A large shelf inside the door celebrates those writers – the ones published by large houses and the ones published by the local printer. Don’t miss the local writers shelf.