Independent bookstores on the rise in Minnesota, each with a story of their own

Published 6:05 pm Friday, June 2, 2023

By Emily Bright

Across Minnesota and the nation, new and more diverse independent bookstores have been popping up. In fact, for every independent bookstore that has closed since 2020, more than three new ones have opened, according to the American Booksellers Association.

It’s part of a continuing trend jumpstarted by the pandemic, and each of these bookstores has a story of its own. 

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When Josh Hames saw the storefront up for lease in West St. Paul, he knew it was perfect for a bookstore. It was late at night, and the lights on the side of the building illuminated the old brick building. He could see the tall ceilings through the windows.  

“It looked like the cover to ‘Needful Things’ by Stephen King a little bit,” he said.  

Hames, 30, opened Other Skies Weird Fiction in 2022, just in time for his favorite holiday: Halloween. The store sells high-quality editions of horror, sci-fi and imaginative fiction. Hames has been collecting these genres since he was 14, but the pandemic shutdown really clarified that passion.

“We all had time to reflect on, what are the things that we really, really like to do when we go out? And for me I found that, even before the pandemic, I would always spend all my time looking for books, at Goodwill, thrift shops, estate sales. I was always out there buying books, and I thought, man, that’s really important, I want to be a part of that,” he said.

It turns out, others do, too, and Hames said he’s been blown away by the community of readers who share his interest.

A couple hundred miles to the northwest, in Detroit Lakes, Minn., Amy Erickson was feeling the lack of a bookstore in her town. The closest one was about a half-hour away, ever since the local Book World closed.

“And when they closed, I said, ‘I don’t know that I can live in a town without a bookstore.’ It just felt wrong somehow,” Erickson said.

Erickson was a 49-year-old stay-at-home mother of three. When the pandemic hit and her husband suddenly stopped traveling for work, they had some big family discussions.

“And I said, you know, if I don’t do this by the time I’m 50, I’m probably never going to do it,” she said. “I don’t want to live knowing that I there was something that I wanted to do and I could do and I just didn’t do it.”

In May 2022, she took a leap of faith and launched Bluebird Books. It’s a family affair: Her three teenage kids are now all old enough to work in the store, along with some of their friends.  

“I love being surrounded by books all the time,” she said. “My favorite thing in the world is when someone walks back into the bookstore and says, ‘You recommended that book to me, and I absolutely loved it. What else? What other recommendations do you have?’ That makes my heart happy.” 

Bluebird Books and Other Skies Weird Fiction are two of the 15 new independent bookstores that have opened in Minnesota since March 2020. That’s a big rise, and it’s in line with a regional and national trend.

Carrie Obry is the executive director of the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association. She credits the rise in part to, the website that lets people buy books online and shares the profit with indie bookstores. She says having that online platform has democratized the bookselling industry. 

“There’s just a whole new influx of wonderful much-needed energy and diversity coming through our ranks of bookstore owners,” Obry said.

There are challenges, of course, for any bookstore: competition for customers’ time and attention, accelerating rent rates in an industry prone to low wages and supply chain issues. 

Former educator Mary Taris never expected to open a bookstore. When she got fed up with not seeing enough great children’s books by authors of color, she started Strive Publishing in 2018.

She quickly found the need was far greater than a one-woman publisher could address. After the murder of George Floyd, Taris said Strive publishing was flooded with people wanting to write their own stories.

“The civil unrest was a huge contributing factor in me kind of doubling down on my mission to elevate Black voices,” Taris said.

She looked for partnerships, and she found space in the IDS building in downtown Minneapolis, tucked among other retailers in the Black-woman owned Sistah Co-op. The tiny Strive Bookstore struggled for foot traffic following its opening in the fall of 2021, but still, Taris saw an impact.

“When Black people come in, they’re like, ‘Wow, this is for us,’” she said. “And I even get more people who are inspired to write, you know, when they come into the bookstore, and just, it kind of feels like, the more I can do in the book space, the more our mission can come alive.”

Working with the Minneapolis Downtown Council, she’s about to open a second location in the historic Young Quinlan Building on Nicollet Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. The ribbon-cutting ceremony is Saturday, June 2.

The 4,000-square-foot space has gotten some pre-opening customer praise:

“‘Oh, wow, this is so beautiful!’ That’s what I hear,” she said.

Taris can’t wait to use the space to celebrate authors and cross-cultural communication.

Because whatever the path they take to get there, for booksellers, there’s no better feeling than getting the right book into a reader’s hands.

New independent bookstores in Minnesota

Black Garnet Books

St. Paul

1319 University Ave. W

Open Tuesdays through Fridays noon to 6 p.m., Saturdays noon to 5 p.m., closed Sundays and Mondays

Chapter One

Victoria, Minn.

7924 Victoria Dr.

Open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Saturdays 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Sundays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; closed Mondays

Twinflower Books

Center City, Minn.

280 Andrews Ave.

Open Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. with additional popup hours and locations

Four Pines Bookstore

Bemidji, Minn.

102 Third Street NW

Open Mondays through Fridays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Sundays

Garden Party Books

Rochester, Minn.

602 Seventh St. NW

Open Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays

Strive Bookstore

Minneapolis (two locations)

3801 N 27th Ave.

80 South Eighth Street, IDS Center skyway, Suite 254 in the Sistah Co-op

Open Mondays through Fridays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., first and third Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Chapter Two

Redwood Falls, Minn.

120 E Second St

Open Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Fridays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.; closed Sundays

The Thinking Spot

Wayzata, Minn.

3311 County Rd. 101 #4

Open Wednesdays through Sundays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesdays noon to 6 p.m., closed Mondays

Lionseed Bookstore & Learning Commons

Battle Lake, Minn.

102 Summit St. W

In May, open Thursdays and Fridays 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Bluebird Books

Detroit Lakes, Minn.

813 Washington Ave.

Open Mondays through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Sunday noon to 4 p.m.

Comma, a bookshop


4250 Upton Ave. S

Open Tuesdays through Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Fridays through Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., closed Mondays

Wildflower Bookshop

Grand Rapids, Minn.

4 NE 3rd Ave.

Open Tuesdays through Fridays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., closed Sundays and Mondays

NP Junction Books

Carlton, Minn.

More Than Words

Moorhead, Minn.

40 Fourth St. N

Grand opening this summer, hours TBA

Zumbrota Literary Society

Zumbrota, Minn.

320 East Ave.

Open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.