Behind the purple door at Wild Rumpus, an award-winning children’s bookstore in Minneapolis’ Linden Hills neighborhood, is an enchanting world of books, whimsical art and a menagerie of animals.
It’s a magical place that Tom Braun brought to life more than two decades ago, inspired by the “The Salamander Room,” a book about a boy who brings a salamander home from the forest. With each turn of the page, the boy’s bedroom evolves into a forest.
Likewise, Braun, with the help of an architect, transformed a 2,000-square-foot storefront into a world that takes visitors on a make-believe jaunt into the outdoors, complete with a sunrise, a garden shed and a tree-trimmer who appears to be embedded in the ceiling’s sheet rock with only a pants leg and boots seen at top of the ladder.
“I don’t know why he did that, but it’s funny,” said Braun’s wife, Felicity Britton of Minneapolis.
Two cats and a chicken roam the store while two chinchillas, a cockatiel, two mourning doves, a tarantula and three rats have their own designated spaces. Flip off the light in the bathroom, and an aquarium of fish appears behind the mirror.
There are surprises at every turn, Britton said.
After moving from Australia in 1996, she visited the bookstore with her children long before she knew Braun. It was a warm, welcoming haven on snowy days, she said. “You walk into Wild Rumpus and it’s like walking into a book,” she added.
It’s a place of wonder created by a man who never lost touch with his own inner child.
Braun suffered from Alzheimer’s disease the last four years. He died Oct. 31 at age 74.
When he was diagnosed, he decided to talk about the disease in hopes of reducing the stigma of it, Britton said.
“When he walked the dog, he would stop and chat with people and somehow end up telling them he had Alzheimer’s,” she said. “It started lots of conversations in the neighborhood.”
Braun was an “extreme extrovert” with a zest for life and a passion for celebrating even the smallest moments, his wife said.
“People were attracted to him because he was very engaging,” Britton said. “He was a little bit of a Pied Piper. People would come along for the ride because he was fun.”
One of those people was former business partner Joanne Ellison, who also served with Braun on the Linden Hills Business Association and joined him and others on a Linden Hills street beautification project.
“He had an ability to cut through objections with a witty twist,” Ellison said. “People could then step back and maybe see things in a different light.”
Creative and talented, Braun always had a thousand ideas. “He was a visionary,” Britton said. “But he didn’t have the implementation gene. He would come up with ideas but would have to partner with someone who could actually implement them.”
Such was the case when Braun invited a group of smart people who he liked into his living room to brainstorm ideas for combating climate change, Britton said. That was the beginning of a nonprofit group — Linden Hills Power & Light, now called Minneapolis Climate Action.
“He was like a shooting star,” said Collette Morgan, who was married to Braun for 10 years and remained his business partner after they divorced. He was “brilliant, mesmerizing and gone in a flash.”
He is survived by a daughter, Laura Pardo of Edina; a son, Adam Braun of Minneapolis; two stepdaughters, Isabelle and Lucinda Arnoldy of Minneapolis; a brother, Alan Braun of Golden Valley and five grandchildren.
A celebration of life will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Nov. 25 in the Skyline Room at the Walker Art Center.