Although Common Good Books, the independent bookstore owned by radio personality and author Garrison Keillor, has moved out of the 1,800-square-foot retail space it inhabited in the basement of the Blair Arcade Building in an upscale St. Paul, Minn. neighborhood, the space will once again house a bookstore. Sue Zumberge, who was the manager of Common Good Books from its opening in November 2006 until October 2011, will open her own bookstore in that same space in June, and name it Subtext. Although Zumberge is the sole proprietor of Subtext, she is going to run the store in partnership with her landlord, June Berkowitz, the owner of Nina’s Coffee Café, which is housed directly above Subtext, on the ground floor of the Blair Arcade. Zumberge has signed a three-year lease on a 2,400-square-feet space below Nina’s.
Zumberge told PW that Subtext is going to be a “small community bookstore,” and that she is already taking neighborhood feedback into account in developing her business model. Earlier this spring, Zumberge distributed 300 questionnaires to retailers along the Selby Avenue commercial area, asking respondents to vote on possible names for the store, as well as vote on their preferences regarding store sections and types of in-store events.Subtext’s inventory will emphasize the top 10 categories that the 250 respondents to the questionnaire voted on -- which include fiction, poetry, biography, and YA titles.
Subtext will hold regular in-store events, including plays and community dialogues, as well as author events. David Unowsky, the former owner of the Ruminator, and previously the events coordinator at Magers and Quinn bookstore in Minneapolis, has been hired by Zumberge to organize author appearances and other in-store events. “There’s going to be a lot of events that concern our community,” Zumberge said, “We’re not competing with the big guys; we want to draw from the community.”
There will be four Subtext employees “to start with,” and Nina’s Coffee Shop employees will be crossed-trained to process customer transactions when the bookstore is closed during the popular coffee shop’s longer business hours. When both businesses are open, customers will be able to move freely between the two. The space will hold tables for bookstore and coffee shop customers during the day, which will be pushed aside in the evenings to accommodate audiences attending events. Both spaces will also feature free wi-fi.
“We have a place that wants us and is willing to work with us to keep us whole,” said Zumberge, who disclosed that Berkowitz is providing a discount on the rent until the store “is on its feet.”
Zumberge, who has owned two bookstores in Montana, and worked at several Twin Cities bookstores before managing Common Good, is planning a June soft opening, and a grand opening celebration in September.
David O'Neill, Keillor's public relations representative, declined comment on Keillor's response to Subtext opening in the space vacated by Common Good Books. After closing briefly during its move, Common Good re-opened on April 9 in a 3,000 square-foot retail space across the street from Macalester College, which is almost three miles away from its previous location on Selby and Western.