When I am scouting out bookstores in a new town, I try to veer off the beaten path. So many folks who visit San Francisco never get beyond City Lights, and folks visiting Seattle and Portland often wind up thinking that Elliot Bay and Powells are the only games in their respective towns. But it’s hard to rely on tourism for your daily bread—just look at Elliot Bay, which moved from the tourist-heavy International District to the more residential area of Capitol Hill.
There are plenty of great indie bookstores in suburban strip centers (including Milwaukee favorites Next Chapter and Books and Company), and even a number in regional malls, but I have a special place in my heart for those in village shopping districts. So that’s why when we were at the Minneapolis Gift Mart in Minnetonka, we made a special effort to visit The Bookcase of Wayzata (photo courtesy of the Book Case, as I accidentally deleted my photos), on the scenic banks of Wayzata Bay, which I think is part of the meandering Lake Minnetonka. OK, we got lost once or twice, even with a phone’s GPS system, but isn’t that part of being a visitor?
The store has a long and storied history, dating back to the early 1950s in downtown Minneapolis. The owners moved it out to Wayzata, where it has had a number of owners. My former boss David was good friends with long-time owner Gail. It is currently owned by Charlie, who was the store’s manager under the previous owner Peggy. I walked in and wanders around, but the conversation started when I saw their great Baby Lit collection from Gibbs Smith. Counting books about Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice and Dracula? Who can resist them?
While we were admiring the display, Debbie at the register started chatting with us. “I knew you were a bookseller,” she noted triumphantly. So then the questions started. Where are your staff recs*? How do you display your upcoming events? How do your Peter Pauper journals sell? The answer to the last one was for Bookcase “Incredibly well.” They just got in a pile of them, turned around, and they had all sold.
We started trading stories about events—how wonderful Cheryl Strayed was, for example. One can’t help but get a little competitive about these things, albeit in a friendly manner. I suppose we’ll have to check back about Mike Perry (their event is August 28) and Adam Johnson (their event is September 5, while we hosted him in hardcover, and I just put the paperback on my rec shelf).
It’s a small space, efficiently used, connecting like us to a chain coffee shop, in their case, Caribou. They can move fixtures and get a good amount of people in the store, but they have a great relationship with a nearby church that can take their events to the next level.
Because the village center is a thriving hub of stuff for sale, they have to be a little more careful about not stepping on toes with their gift items. Every time I’d ask about a category, Debbie would mention the store nearby with a friendly relationship. That can be tricky, but there are categories, like cards, where you can always find some line that’s not being carried. And it sounds like we might be trading journal vendors. I was sort of surprised not to see a Paperblanks spinner in all my MSP bookstore travels. A lot of gift lines decide to drop their dedicated bookstore commission rep thinking that this business is a sure thing, but I have noticed with frequency in my travels that for smaller stores that only do a minimum of gift buying, they stick to the lines that are carried by their book reps, like Peter Pauper, Galison, Moleskine, and Merry Makers.
In all, just the kind of experience you want at this kind of store--curated selection, enthusiastic events, and lots of conversation. And when I thought about it, with such a scenic locale, the bookstore probably does get plenty of tourist business, just not a tourist like me, who has not interest in relaxing. And then we had a nice late lunch at Sunsets restaurants because Debbie’s first choice was only between meals. I had a spinach salad with chicken and strawberries, while Kirk had a chicken and sausage penne pasta. Two thumbs up.
*I understand that smaller stores generally have so much personal service that they don't need a staff rec section, but I would like to go on record that I still like them and think they add a personal connection to the bookstore.