When Kelsie Pates, a bookseller at Red Balloon Bookshop, nominated her employer for Bookstore of the Year, she wrote, “Our iconic building on historic Grand Avenue in St. Paul, Minn., has been a community gathering space for decades. We have multiple generations of families that come through our store and who share stories about visiting when they were kids and how excited they are to bring their own kids or grandkids to our store now.”

The Red Balloon was founded in 1984 a few doors down from its current location by Michele Cromer-Poire and Carol Erdahl; the two sold the business to Holly Weinkauf in 2011. Today, the store is located in a two-story house containing 2,300 square feet of retail space on a busy street lined with restaurants and boutiques. While it specializes in books for children of all ages, since the pandemic, it has kept a small selection of adult books in stock.

“Michele and Carol built this wonderful community support around the bookstore,” Weinkauf says. The store is renowned throughout the Twin Cities for its twice-weekly storytimes, as well as for its vibrant programming featuring both nationally touring authors and local writers, including an off-site event on March 7 pairing Kate DiCamillo (Ferris) with John Schu (Louder Than Hunger) that drew 200 people. The store also has brought scores of authors to schools throughout the metro area over the years; its nonprofit RBB Connects Fund finances author visits and provides free books to underfunded schools.

“We’ve always been invested in and engaged with our community,” Weinkauf says. “We work hard to be a welcoming space, providing lovely experiences with books for kids, families, and older readers.”