Maybe it’s the day and age we live in, but it really is slim pickings for book sellers in downtown Minneapolis. After the Block E Borders closed in January 2008, Barnes and Noble is the last remaining new book seller downtown. For independent bookstores, your best options are Magers & Quinn in Uptown or Garrison Keillor’s Common Good Books in St. Paul.
Then I found James and Mary Laurie Booksellers, a diminutive storefront at 921 Nicollet Mall that belies the 120,000 volumes they have squeezed into the space. And, it’s not just the books – they have old maps and prints for sale along with over 30,000 used classical and jazz vinyl records.
James and Mary started their bookstore in 1969 and have been accumulating books, art, and records ever since. James took me on a tour through the tight passage ways, stepping over stacks of books on the floor. Descending into the basement, I realized how he’s able to offer 120K books for sale – the enormous basement extends into the buildings on either side. James showed me the rare book section chock full of leather bound first editions (e.g. Essays by Emerson 1906 for $8,849). I won’t be buying the Emerson first edition, but I’ll definitely be back for some browsing.
Another unique Minneapolis resource for all things literary is Open Book at 1011 Washington Avenue South. Three great Minnesota institutions came together to form Open Book: the Loft Literary Center, Milkweed Editions, and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. And, they are the first such place in the nation to “serve as a gathering place that celebrates the book community and offers programs to inspire participation in reading, writing, and book arts.” They host events and offer great classes too.
- Loft Literary Center founded in 1974 in a loft above a Minneapolis bookstore, is now the nation’s largest and most comprehensive independent literary arts center. For nearly 30 years, the Loft’s mission has been “to foster a writing community, the artistic development of individual writers, and an audience for literature.”
- Milkweed Editions is currently the nation’s largest independent nonprofit literary press, and has had a readership of almost two million people since it was founded in 1979. Milkweed Editions publishes 12-20 books each year in the categories of fiction, nonfiction, juvenile fiction, and poetry.
- Minnesota Center for Book Arts, was the relative youngster among the three organizations. It was formed in 1983 by a group of local book lovers who wanted to foster enthusiasm for the book as a contemporary art form. MCBA’s artist cooperative offered 24-hour access to papermaking, bookbinding, and printmaking equipment. Courses and workshops for students of all ages, residencies in schools, and statewide exhibitions provided a showcase for local artists as well as highlighting the importance of book art for a wide range of audiences.
Open Book makes an interesting point on their website that other arts organizations have fancy halls to present their art form. “Literature has nothing.” I would argue that our fantastic Central Library or Laurie Booksellers is just such a place. So, if Laurie Booksellers is the last remaining independent “venue” for books in downtown Minneapolis, ought we not celebrate it?