Micawber’s Books has been within a mutton-chop whisker of closing before, but neighbors, fans and customers always managed to rally for the eclectic and loved St. Anthony Park bookseller.
Not this time.
Black ice did what past business struggles couldn’t. Owner Tom Bielenberg slipped and fell on March 3, breaking a hip, two ribs and dislocating a couple of bones in his back. Thanks to what is expected to be at least a three-month convalescence for Bielenberg, Micawber’s will be closing for good, following a truncated store schedule this week and a final closing sale in April.
“It is with heavy hearts that we’re writing to you to let you know that Micawber’s Books will be closing its doors permanently,” read an e-mail sent to loyal customers. “Due to this accident, Tom will be closing Micawber’s.”
Bielenberg’s family has set up a GoFundMe campaign to help cover his medical expenses.
Friends of the bookstore first rallied to extend its life back in October 2014, when they began gathering within its bookshelf-lined walls to sip wine, eat cheese and buy books. The social gatherings doubled as a marketing tool to keep one of the Twin Cities’ last independent bookstores open in the midst of competition from internet booksellers and big box stores. That bought a couple more years.
In spring 2016, Bielenberg moved to a smaller space to save money. More than 20 friends gathered then to cart boxes of books from Micawber’s collection into a lower-level space in the same Old World-styled complex of shops. A friend and customer with carpentry skills built Bielenberg a new front counter.
Micawber’s had been a neighborhood fixture ever since Norton Stillman founded the store in 1972. Stillman sold the shop in 2003 to Bielenberg and Hans Weyandt, who had worked for years at the former Hungry Mind bookstore near Macalester College. Weyandt, who became the gregarious face of the shop, stopped working at Micawber’s about six years ago — a move that pushed the quieter Bielenberg from the back of the shop to the front counter.
The timing of Bielenberg’s exit is unfortunate, said Carrie Obry, executive director of the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association. Micawber’s is closing as independent bookstores are enjoying a resurgence nationally. According to data from the American Booksellers Association, book sales and the number of bookstores have been climbing for several years.
Jon Schumacher, executive director of the St. Anthony Park Community Foundation and a St. Paul school board member, said Bielenberg is “a quiet guy but has a fierce love of literature.” Because of that, Bielenberg and his store proved a perfect match for a neighborhood passionate about the written word, Schumacher said — as evidenced by the store often being packed with neighbors who came to hear authors read from their works.
“It really is kind of a sad way to end things,” Schumacher said. “Micawber’s was really kind of a holdout, a throwback. And there was a loyalty to Tom because of who he is. We wish him a speedy recovery.”
Micawber’s truncated hours this week will be from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Wednesday, 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. A final store-closing sale will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on April 6-7 and April 13-14.