Bookstore as a muse Feature: Q&A with five women-owned independent booksellers in Minnesota

Birch Bark Book Books in Minneapolis (Courtesy Photo)

There are around 45 independent bookstores in Minnesota – and many are owned by women. 

“Women who own bookstores understand each other’s passion for books – a special passion that is generative and tender. We feel very deeply about books,” says Kristen Eide-Tollefson, co-owner of The Bookhouse in Dinkytown in Minneapolis. 
“Most shopping and purchasing of books is done by women,” says Judith Kissner, owner of Scout and Morgan Books in Cambridge. “We are pretty good at figuring out that it is all about building relationships and being a good community partner.” 
The Minnesota Women’s Press connected with five women bookstore owners for their perspectives on women and books – plus their recommendations for great reads! 

Red Balloon Bookshop

Holly Weinkauf of the Red Balloon Bookshop (Courtesy Photo)

The Red Balloon specializes in children’s and young adult’s books. The store is located on Grand Avenue in St. Paul and has been in business 32 years. In 2011, Holly Weinkauf purchased the business that was co-founded by Carol Erdahl and Michele Cromer-Poire. 

Does being a woman bring anything different to the bookstore business?
Independent bookstores across the country are predominantly owned and/or run by women. Maybe because of that, independent bookstores and booksellers tend to collaborate, share information and in general do what we can to support each other. 

What is the value of women-owned, independent bookstores?
All independent bookstores create community. We’re a place where people come and connect with authors, illustrators and each other. We’re a place to discover new books, enjoy story times and just relax. Local bookstores are essential for a healthy local economy, keeping jobs and money right here in our community. 

Red Balloon Bookshop, 891 Grand Ave., St. Paul, www.redballoonbookshop.com
Holly Weinkauf recommends these books for young readers
Picture books: Little Penguins by Cynthia Rylant; Before Morning by Joyce Sidman and One North Star: A Counting Book by Phyllis Root 
Middle Grade Fiction: Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier and The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill 
Young Adult: Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson and See No Color by Shannon Gibney 

Moon Palace Books

Angela and Jamie Schwesnedl opened this South Minneapolis bookstore in Fall 2012. “Most great bookstores are run by women,” says Angela Schwesnedl. 

What qualities do you bring to bookstore ownership? I love books! I love helping people find a book that will be meaningful to them and I definitely like to challenge people’s ideas about books and bookstores. 

What distinguishes your bookstore? 
We’re a neighborhood bookstore – we have a little bit of everything. A good bookstore is more than a place to shop, it’s the intellectual heart of a community. 

The mission on its website: Moon Palace Books is committed to being a welcoming and open space. We are here for people of color, queer people, trans people, for women, immigrants, indigenous people, for the disabled, for children, struggling folks, feminist folks, working folks and those who have served. We welcome all sorts of political discourse, but bigotry, homophobia, and white supremacy have no place in our store. 

Moon Palace Books, 3260 Minnehaha Ave., Minneapolis, moonpalacebooks.com
Angela Schwesnedl recommends these books by women authors:
The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson 
The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli 
American Woman by Susan Choi 
Kindred by Octavia Butler 
Gentrification of the Mind by Sarah Schulman 
Neapolitan Quartet series by Elena Ferrante 

The Bookhouse in Dinkytown

Kristen Eide-Tollefson celebrated 40 years as an antiquarian bookseller in 2016. Located near the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus, the Bookhouse is a “community cultural archive,” says Eide-Tollefson, with its inventory built from the “used” books the community has brought in. 

What is the role of your bookstore?
What is most important to me is the role we play in stewarding collections. We’re not looking for the most valuable book, but what was collected because they have value and meaning to a person. When we steward a collection, we feel that meaning is passed along. Pieces from the collections get re-circulated, passing them along to someone else gives them new meaning. 

We were lucky to be able to steward the book collection of Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Wahl. If you want to see what was really important to someone, look right behind their desk chair. Wahl had Virginia Wolff, Willa Cather, Meridel Le Sueur and a wonderful selection of Minnesota women poets who had signed books to her. 

The Bookhouse in Dinkytown, 1316 4th St. SE, upstairs in Dinkydale, Minneapolis, www.bookhouseindinkytown.com
Eide-Tollefson recommends books by these women authors:
Everything by Meridel Le Sueur 
Journals and reflections of May Sarton, Madeleine L’Engle and Florida Scott-Maxwell.
 Scott-Maxwell wrote one of Eide-Tollefson’s favorites, The Measure of My Days, a deep reflection on later life for women, interior and exterior, shifts and changes. 
Books by Olive Schreiner. Eide-Tollefson’s favorite is Dreams [1890], a series of parables and dreams, influential to women, at the turn of the century. Schreiner envisions a women’s future and what it will take to cross over into a world where women’s visions are implemented.

Lake Country Booksellers 

Current owners of Lake Country Booksellers, L-R: Roberta Kiemele, Susie Fruncillo, Nancy Thysell and Faith Basten (Courtesy Photo)

Three to five women at a time have shared the ownership of Lake Country Booksellers during their 36 years of selling books in White Bear Lake. Current owners are Roberta Kiemele, Susie Fruncillo, Nancy Thysell and Faith Basten. “When one woman owner would retire, another woman would buy her shares,” says Basten, whose mother was one of the original owners – or as they are called “the founding mothers.” Basten shares her thoughts. 

What distinguishes your bookstore?
Woman are the majority of our customers, so being women owners, we know what women like. The four of us [owners] each bring our own strengths to the table. Our longevity as a bookstore is our distinction. People who used to come here as kids are now bringing their own kids. 

What do you think is the future of the book?
There will always be room for the printed word. We have found many of our customers are coming back to books. They’re tired of their tablet or they use both. 

Lake Country Booksellers, 4766 Washington Square, White Bear Lake, Check out their Facebook page 
Faith Basten recommends these top women authors: “Right at this moment, I’d recommend Elena Ferrante. Her Neapolitan novels are fabulous and she is getting a lot of press.” Other favorites are Barbara Kingsolver, Ann Patchett, Geraldine Brooks and Jojo Moyes. 

Scout & Morgan Books

L-R: Judith Kissner, owner, and booksellers, Wendy Bronson and Kassie Rood (Courtesy Photo)

Judith Kissner will celebrate the 15th anniversary of her new and used bookstore in May 2017. It was named for her dogs, Scout and Morgan. 

What is the value of women-owned, independent bookstores? 
Women are more likely to participate in book groups and to read books by women authors. Those experiences influence the books we stock in our store. Many women authors who are represented in the store might be overlooked in stores owned by men. 

I am not a book snob! I believe that everyone’s choice of reading is as valuable to them as mine is to me. I often say, “Never apologize for what you read. The fact is you are reading and not everyone can say that.” 

What do you think is the future of the book?
The future of the printed book is bright! Each day I see readers of every age showing a preference toward real books. Some have read the book digitally and loved the book so much that they want to own a physical copy, while others have limited or abandoned altogether the use of their devices for reading books. 

Scout & Morgan Books, 114 Buchanan St., North Cambridge, www.scoutandmorganbooks.com
Judith Kissner recommendations: 
For reading over an author’s lifetime: 

Mary Oliver for poetry 
Willa Cather for an American classic author 
Terry Tempest Williams for the state of our planet 
Louise Erdrich for a Native American perspective 
Alice Munro for her exploration of the lives of women and girls. 
And, more favorite titles by women authors:
Adventures in the Anthropocene by Gaia Vince 
Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 
The Turtle Catcher by Nicole Helget 
In Reach by Pamela Carter Joern 
The Round House by Louise Erdrich 
Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse by Faith Sullivan 
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert 
My Antonia by Willa Cather 
Lila by Marilynne Robinson 
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett 
The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver 
The Quickening by Michelle Hoover