Milkweed Editions will open a bookstore in the Open Book building complex dedicated to the literary arts in downtown Minneapolis in late June. Daniel Slager, the literary nonprofit press' publisher and CEO, told PW the opening date was set for late spring so that “kinks can be worked out over the summer months and [we can] have a great holiday season.” The retail space is still being built out for the 700 to 750-square-feet bookstore; its interior designer, Martha Dayton, also designed Open Book itself. Milkweed Books will be located on the ground floor of the three-story complex, adjacent to the Coffee Gallery café. The space once housed St. Paul’s Ruminator Books’ satellite bookstore.
Milkweed Books will boast an 18-foot ceiling and shelving that goes from the floor almost up to the ceiling. There will be a street entrance, as well as access from Coffee Gallery. The brick back wall will have a felt covering, so that book-related art, including book jacket art, can be pinned there on a rotating basis.
“We want this space to feel equal parts bookstore and art gallery,” Slager said, noting that author events already take place regularly in Open Book’s second-floor Target Performance Hall, which accommodates 200 people. He also anticipates that the bookstore will partner with Minnesota Center for Book Arts, located on the other side of Coffee Gallery’s seating area from the bookstore, and provide letterpress printing services.
“I feel like this is another step in the fulfillment of the possibilities of Open Book,” Slager said of the complex, which opened its doors in 2000, and has become the physical hub of the Twin Cities vibrant literary scene.
Slager explained that Milkweed Editions hopes to “open up the publishing process for our community” through Milkweed Books. While there will be a store manager and both full-time and part-time employees, Milkweed Editions eight-person staff also will cycle through the store periodically to assist with all aspects of its operations, which will include scheduling consultations with customers to discuss their reading habits and preferences.
The store’s inventory will be, Slager said, “closely curated very much from our perspective, [with] an indies presses sensibility. We will sell more books published by our colleagues in the indie press world.” Books will be bought by the bookstore’s buyers in the conventional way, as well as on consignment, so that Milkweed Editions’ revenues won’t be tied up in keeping the bookstore stocked. “We would not want to do this to do damage to us as a publisher,” Slager said, noting that a small bookstore with a large event space upstairs as well as a coffee house next to it “that you don’t have to run” fits the model for a successful business.
The Ruminator’s satellite bookstore, an original tenant of Open Book, closed in 2003 after three years in operation. Owner David Unowsky told PW at the time that the lack of foot traffic in that neighborhood contributed to the 3,000-square-foot store’s demise. The Ruminator itself shut its doors the following year after its landlord, Macalester College, served it with an eviction notice after it had fallen behind in paying rent. Unowsky traced the literary icon’s problems to the financial strains caused by the satellite’s store’s failure.
The area, however, has changed considerably in recent years due to the proximity of the Guthrie Theater complex, ritzy restaurants and shops, and upscale condominium complexes. The Open Book complex recorded 175,000 visitors in 2015, with the majority attending classes and events sponsored by The Loft literary center, another original tenant of Open Book.
The nearest bookstore to Open Book is a Barnes & Noble store one and one-half miles away. The nearest indies, Birchbark Books & Native Arts and Moon Palace Books, are both three miles away. Milkweed Books is going to further serve the neighborhood's literary needs by selling books on weekends at the Mill City Farmers’ Market two blocks away. And, managing director Patrick Thomas told PW, the bookstore is hoping to implement a monthly subscription service for those customers wanting books selected for them by staff on an ongoing basis. The books would be delivered by bicycle – “our answer to drones,” Thomas said.
Slager’s goals for the new venture are trifold: he wants the bookstore to be financially viable, he wants the press to engage with the local community in a more explicit way than it has to date, and he wants the 36-year-old press' venture into retail bookselling to make it a better publisher, especially in terms of marketing and sales.
“We’re trying to reinvent what it means to be a publisher,” Slager said, “This is one part of that.”
An earlier version of this story stated that Milkweed Editions is 32 years old. It is not: the press was founded in 1980. The error has been corrected.