Two St. Paul, Minn., bookstores recently opened their doors with an unusual business model: Addendum, a specialty YA bookstore containing 1,500 titles, is housed inside Subtext, an 1,800-square-foot general bookstore with large poetry, literary fiction, and biography sections. The two bookstores are owned separately, but share a phone, a cash register, and the labor of each store’s employees. Customers are welcome to move freely between the two bookstores; Nina’s Coffee Café, a coffee shop in the same building, is owned by yet another entrepreneur, whose employees are able to process bookstore transactions after hours.
Both bookstores had soft openings in June and celebrated their grand opening in September. The two stores are housed on the lower level of the Blair Arcade, below Nina’s Coffee. Common Good Books, Garrison Keillor’s bookstore, was housed in the space until it moved this past spring to a larger space across the street from Macalester College.
“We want to be known as a YA store,” Addendum’s owner, Marcus Mayer, says. While the majority of Addendum’s inventory is for teens, the store also stocks children’s picture books and middle-grade novels – “but very few,” Mayer adds. “We want this to be a place where teens feel comfortable hanging out. They don’t want a little kid bookshop feel. They want a space of their own.”
Mayer, a librarian with the St. Paul public school system, previously worked for three different Twin Cities bookstores, including Micawber’s, where he wrote the children’s portion of the store newsletter. He also has served on the board of the University of Minnesota’s Kerlan Collection of Children’s Literature.
There are four employees between the two stores who assist all customers. Employee compensation determined by the two bookstore owners by calculating the square footage of each store. Because the employees spend a greater percentage of their time working for Subtext than for Addendum, Mayer works without pay for 12-15 hours each week. Sue Zumberge, the owner of Subtext, is in charge of payroll.
According to Mayer, the stores take care not to overlap on their inventory, and every sale is categorized inside the cash register. The two owners settle up every month.
“We didn’t want customers buying books from both stores to have to get rung up twice,” Mayer explained.
Authors seem to be taking the unconventional arrangement in stride. Addendum has already hosted Lois Lowry (Son) and has scheduled a store visit with Andrea Cremer (Bloodrose: A Nightshade Novel), as well as partnered on a public library event with A.S. King (Ask the Passengers), and a school visit by Jo Nesbo, the author of the Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder middle-grade books.
While Mayer acknowledges his landlord June Berkowitz – the owner of Nina’s Coffee Café and a silent partner in Subtext who, he says, “gave me a good deal on rent so I could build up stock” – he hopes that housing his bookstore inside another bookstore is only temporary.
“In a couple of years,” he says, “I hope to expand, move out, and get a new name.”