When Moon Palace Books was named 2020 Midwest Bookstore of the Year by the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, Danny Caine, owner of Raven Bookstore in Lawrence, Kans., succinctly summed up why it received the honor: “They are doing exactly what indies do when indies are at their best: connecting with their community and finding a voice. They navigated the challenges of this difficult year with unimaginable grace.”

With its deep inventory, large event space, cozy café, and cool vibe, Moon Palace, founded in 2012 by Jamie and Angela Schwesnedl, has long been a popular gathering place for readers and writers. Moon Palace was thrust into the national spotlight following George Floyd’s death on May 25 at the hands of a police officer from its precinct in south Minneapolis—the precinct’s station is on the same block as the store.

Moon Palace, which already had been feeding people made homeless by the Covid-19 pandemic, donated pizza from its café to protesters gathered outside the police station and allowed them to use the store’s facilities and its parking lot—while turning away the police, who wanted to use that parking lot as a staging area. When several buildings in the neighborhood, including a public library branch and a U.S. post office, were burned one night, Moon Palace remained unscathed, though the owners had previously boarded up the huge windows of its two-story facade. Observers reported that protesters told one another to leave the store alone, as its owners were allies against police brutality.

During the MIBA Awards ceremony, Caine recalled seeing a photo taken of the bookstore amid the destruction surrounding it after a night of intense protests and thought, “defiant and drenched in rainbows, still standing strong.”

Six months later, the one regret the Schwesnedls have is that, in Angela’s words, “we wish we could have done more during a really hard time” for the entire neighborhood. But she adds that the store has built strong connections with area businesses that are committed to community safety for all.

Moon Palace, which has been closed to in-store traffic since mid-March but provides pickup service via its new drive-up window, reports that sales have remained steady all year, with a sizable bump in online orders on Small Business Saturday. The owners expect this upward swing to continue through the holidays. “We’re in a good spot,” Angela says. “Politically, we’re right where we want to be.”

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