Bookstores emerge from shutdown with weeklong promotion.

Ernest Hemingway once said, “There is no friend as loyal as a book.” For many readers, there is no better friend than their neighborhood independent bookstore. And surely, the feeling is mutual for the owners and employees of those bookstores.

That friendship will be celebrated on Saturday, April 24, when booksellers across the Twin Cities take part in the annual Independent Bookstore Day (IBD). Part of a nationwide event, the forthcoming IBD will highlight how these small independent bookstores managed to survive the COVID-19 lockdown and a year with little to no in-person book browsing and buying.

Subtext Books
SubText Books manager Matt Keliher helps customer Meta Enzo find a book. Photo by Brad Stauffer

“We’re so grateful for the support our customers have shown,” said Sarah Cassavant, events coordinator at SubText Books, 6 W. Fifth St. “Their patience, generosity, kind words and humorous notes and continued love of books have brightened our days and kept us hopeful throughout a difficult year.”

During last year’s lockdown, SubText converted its events programming to a virtual format and made the store’s full inventory available online. “We have a brand new website that allows folks to browse online and order any books we might not have in stock,” Cassavant said. “Downtown Saint Paul has changed a lot in the last year, but our place within it remains unchanged. Last May we re-signed our lease. We’ll be staying for many years to come.”

“We missed seeing our customers. We’ve been waiting to see them again. To have an occasion like Independent Bookstore Day is always great, but in a year when we’ve hardly seen our customers, it’s even more exciting.”

For IBD, SubText will hold a sidewalk sale of used books. That way, people who may not feel comfortable entering the store can safely browse outside. As has been the case since in-store shopping returned, “masks will be required both inside and outside the store,” Cassavant said. “And we’ll be monitoring capacity to ensure proper social distancing.

Bookseller David Enyeart of Next Chapter Booksellers, 38 S. Snelling Ave., is looking forward to IBD and the weeklong promotion that precedes it. “We missed seeing our customers,” he said. “We’ve been waiting to see them again. To have an occasion like Independent Bookstore Day is always great, but in a year when we’ve hardly seen our customers, it’s even more exciting.”

 

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Next Chapter saw its sales dip with the COVID shutdown and the subsequent disruption of in-person shopping. Yet the bookstore remains healthy thanks to online shopping, curbside pickup and in-person shopping by appointment.

“When people enter the store, especially to just browse, they see a book or books they may not have planned to buy but do. That doesn’t happen with online shopping,” Enyeart said. “How has the last year been? I would say OK-ish. The ‘OK’ part is that our customers made sure of that. We were able to continue connecting people and books. The ‘ish’ part is, there was much less direct contact. But we’re here, and that’s the best thing.”

“The last year was incredibly challenging and exhausting,” said Holly Weinkauf, owner of Red Balloon Bookshop, 891 Grand Ave. “There were all of the changes we had to make quickly to continue to serve customers. But the pandemic taught us that we could continue to meet customer needs. Our customers remained supportive through online shopping and virtual events. We’re thankful for the community support.”

After initially reopening for in-person shopping by appointment, the Red Balloon has begun welcoming drop-in shoppers with face masks and social distancing. “Now, with people becoming fully vaccinated, I’ve seen more grandparents coming in to shop,” Weinkauf said. “We’re connecting readers of all ages to our books again.”

 

Subtext Books
Manager Matt Keliher stocked puzzles last week at SubText Books’ downtown shop as regular customer Archie Dickens took a break from browsing the shelves. Photo by Brad Stauffer

Amy Turany and Marcus Mayer, owners of Storied Owl Books at 2059 Randolph Ave., are also excited to be a part of Independent Bookstore Day this year. “Even though we’re still closed for browsing, we’ll be offering curbside pickup from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. on Saturday and lots of recommendations and special day-of buys,” Turany said.

“The pandemic has been difficult for us, especially hitting during our first year in business,” Turany said. “Just as we were starting to get the hang of running the store, we needed to reinvent it. But we’ve been overwhelmed by the support we’ve received from the neighborhood. We’ve found that people love the free delivery and the online ordering—two things we hadn’t considered before but hope will remain a part of our offerings. We’re planning to reopen to the public sometime this summer after we’re fully vaccinated. We can’t wait to be able to see our customers in person again.”

Storied Owl, Red Balloon, Next Chapter, SubText and the other participating bookstores have linked with the literary organization Rain Taxi to offer Twin Cities Independent Bookstore Passports. Readers may pick up a passport at any of the stores (or online at storiedowlbooks.com) beginning April 18. From then until April 24, customers are encouraged to get their passport stamped at as many bookstores as they can. No purchase is necessary, but when a passport is stamped, it activates a coupon that can be redeemed at the store at a later date. Those who receive a stamp from every eligible store in the passport will be entered in a drawing for books and other merchandise, VIP event tickets and more.

For more information, visit twincitiesindependentbooksellers.com.

—Anne Murphy

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