Great Lakes booksellers are a collegial group. How collegial? Three years ago, the Midwest Booksellers Independent Booksellers Association and the Great Lakes Independent Booksellers Association decided to hold one joint trade show, calling it Heartland Fall Forum. The two regional bookseller organizations have since taken turns assuming primary responsibility for the annual gathering, which is taking place this fall in Minneapolis September 30–October 2. Last year, Heartland took place in Rosemont, a Chicago suburb, and drew almost 300 MIBA and GLIBA booksellers.

It makes sense that Midwestern bookseller trade shows rotate between the Windy City and the Twin Cities: they are two of the most vibrant bookselling markets in the country. Both metro areas boast a variety of general, as well as specialty bookstores, including feminist, mystery, and children’s. There’s even a small bookstore in St. Paul, Addendum, that sells only YA titles.

While Borders’s collapse in 2011 temporarily shook Chicago’s book world, with the closing of 31 bookstores there, including a 48,881-sq.-ft. store in the heart of the famed Magnificent Mile, the indies quickly rallied. The scene is now more robust than ever, despite this past winter’s exceptionally harsh weather, which affected sales at retailers throughout the region. In July, nine bookstores organized Chicago Independent Bookstore Day, during which customers were encouraged to visit participating stores to take advantage of deals and special promotions. Powell’s Bookstore in University Village even offered a 20% discount to customers who’d visited one other participating store and a 30% discount to customers who’d visited at least two others. About one-third of Powell’s customers that day received those discounts.

While Anderson’s Bookshops, PW’s 2011 Bookstore of the Year, has welcomed the sixth generation of Andersons to the family-owned business, celebrating its 140th anniversary in 2015, other famous Chicagoland indie have recently changed hands. In Winnetka, Roberta Rubin sold the 77-year-old Bookstall at Chestnut Court, PW’s 2012 Bookstore of the Year, to Stephanie Hochschild in spring 2013; Hochschild says that there’s been a “resurgence of local support for the store” since the transition. Sales have been up this past summer, with July up 25%.

Last fall, Sue Boucher sold the 65-year-old Lake Forest Books in Lake Forest to Eleanor Thorn. A January flood caused thousands of dollars in losses, but Thorn says that, “from April on,” sales have been up. In July, Ann Christophersen and Linda Bubon turned over the feminist bookstore they’d founded 35 years ago, Women & Children First, in the city’s Andersonville neighborhood, to two of their employees, Lynn Mooney and Sarah Hollenbeck.

And then there’s Bookends and Beginnings in Evanston, Ill. Chicagoland’s newest bookstore opened in April in the 3,000-sq.-ft. space previously occupied for 33 years by Bookman’s Alley, a used and antiquarian store made famous in Chicago writer Audrey Niffenegger’s novel The Time Traveler’s Wife. Nina Barrett and her husband, Jeffrey Garrett, sell a mix of new, used, and bargain books. Barrett, a writer, notes that she used to “moonlight on and off” at WCF and says that she had long considered opening a bookstore in Evanston, “an independent bookstore desert,” despite affluent residents and Northwestern University. “If Evanston can’t support a bookstore,” Barrett says, “I can’t imagine what community can.”

As for the reception from the other booksellers, Barrett says, “I really feel like we’re joining a community. Roberta [Rubin], Brad [Jonas, owner of Powell’s bookstores], and Ann [Christophersen] have all been so helpful to us throughout the process.”

Bookselling on Both Sides of the Mississippi

If the Twin Cities’ independent bookstores haven’t joined together to hold their own independent bookstore day, perhaps it’s because they don’t have to; they regularly partner. In fact, Addendum, a 500-sq.-ft. indie specializing in YA titles, is housed within Subtext, a 2,000-sq.-ft. general bookstore in St. Paul. The two separate businesses share a cash register and hold events in the same space.

“We have different views on bookselling—I, for instance, like section signs—but we coexist well,” says Subtext’s owner, Sue Zumberge. “We are mutually complementary and Addendum has a great selection.” Addendum, which reports a 25% increase in sales this year, is looking for a new and larger space; it hopes to move next year.

Three Twin Cities bookstores recently reached across the Mississippi River to partner on a series of book launch parties called Lit Up Late. Common Good Books in St. Paul, owned by radio personality and author Garrison Keillor, kicked off the series on August 12 with a midnight launch party for Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. On September 1, Magers and Quinn in Minneapolis held a midnight launch party for David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks, and on September 15, Moon Palace, also in Minneapolis, held a midnight launch party for John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van. Customers attending all three events and buying the books were entered into a drawing for a night’s stay at the posh St. Paul hotel, courtesy of the Friends of the St. Paul Public Library, which sponsors Opus & Olives and the Minnesota Book Awards.

“The project came up organically,” explains David Enyeart, Common Good’s manager. “Magers and Quinn shot me a note to ask if we were going to be open for the Murakami release. They weren’t able to do that, but they were planning to stay open to sell [The Bone Clocks]. When we realized there would be two separate release parties, we thought we’d find a third and make a series. So we called up Moon Palace, and Lit Up Late was born.”

It’s not just the big city stores freely sharing their resources with one another. Lee Stewart, the manager of Drury Lane Books, in Grand Marais, Minn., remembers selling out of books during an event featuring a popular local author; Birchbark Books and Gifts, a few blocks away, immediately replenished Drury Lane’s stock so that the signing could continue without disruption. “We hold books for each other’s customers,” Stewart says. “People are surprised, but we’re all small businesses in a small town; the money we keep here is important.”

Wisconsin Bookstores Pull Together

While there are few independents left in the greater Milwaukee metro area—once the hometown of fabled Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops—the stores that still exist, including Boswell Book Company, a 7,000-sq.-ft. store that used to be a Schwartz outlet, are just as close-knit as booksellers elsewhere in the region. “Daniel [Goldin, Boswell’s owner] is the glue that holds it together,” insists Lisa Baudoin, the managing partner of Books & Company, in Oconomowoc, a town 35 miles west of Milwaukee. The two stores take turns hosting rep nights, and authors coming to the area usually visit both stores. Books & Co. is “assisting” Boswell this fall when it hosts a children’s book and author conference. Boswell also partners with Mystery One, another Milwaukee store; it stocks about 6,000 titles. When publishers send mystery authors to Boswell, Mystery One bookseller David Biemann says, “[Goldin] will extend them to us,” and signings are held at both stores. “It works to our mutual advantage,” Biemann says, “and I send customers to Boswell.”

In Madison, A Room of One’s Own, a store specializing in new books, and Avol’s Books, a store specializing in used books, merged two years ago; A Room took over Avol’s bricks-and-mortar location in 2012. The new and used inventory of both stores are combined on the shelves, and Avol’s owner, Ron Czerwien, sells used and out-of-print books online. It’s been a beneficial arrangement for both retailers, explains A Room’s owner, Sandra Torkildson. Sales have risen more than 25% since A Room moved into the former Avol’s space and expanded its inventory to include general books in addition to the feminist titles it has sold for almost 40 years.

Meanwhile, some bookstores in Wisconsin’s multitude of small towns thrive by providing products or services in addition to books. Northwind Books & Fiber, in Spooner, sells 70% books, 25% yarn and related materials, and 5% artwork, gifts, toys, and games. Despite the record-breaking cold early in the year, it was the “best winter ever,” says Carol Blizzard Dunn, who has owned the 21-year-old bookstore for seven years. “I think the harsh winter was good for us,” she says. “It was never so bad that people couldn’t get out.” Even when she offers sales on yarn, like this summer’s first Yarnapalooza, she says, books sell. Approximately 50% of sales during Yarnapalooza were of books.

Click here to return to the main feature.