A supernatural plan

  • Article by: TODD NELSON , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 23, 2011 - 5:57 PM

Carl Weschcke, chairman of Woodbury-based metaphysical publishing company Llewellyn Worldwide, has pioneered in both the paranormal and publishing.

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Carl Weschcke, left, owner of Woodbury-based Llewellyn Worldwide and Bill Krause, right, publisher of Llewellyn Worldwide, pose in Weschcke’s Newport office. Llewellyn Worldwide is the oldest and largest independent publisher of metaphysical books.

Photo: Kathy M. Helgeson, Special to the Star Tribune

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Carl Weschcke has published countless titles on the metaphysical -- from magic and astrology to tarot cards and runes -- in the 50 years he's owned Woodbury-based Llewellyn Worldwide.

Yet a very down-to-earth entrepreneurial spirit has guided Weschcke, a pioneer in both publishing and the paranormal, as he has built Llewellyn into a household name in what formerly was known as the occult.

How else to explain the supernatural effort that Weschcke has undertaken in leading Llewellyn through vast changes in publishing, technology and the economy to become the world's oldest and largest independent metaphysical publisher?

"I had a dream of being a publisher, ideally in metaphysics," said Weschcke, who bought the company in 1960, moving its inventory from Los Angeles to his native St. Paul by rail car. "You couldn't do it unless you had a dream. You have youth on your side, you've got that energy. But without the dream you wouldn't have the motivation to do it. I was an entrepreneur for sure."

Weschcke last month celebrated both his 81st birthday and the 110th anniversary of the Llewellyn's launch. Its founder, astrologist Llewellyn George, started the company in 1901 in Portland, Ore., before moving to California.

Today, Llewellyn's 73 employees are gearing up for next week's out-of-this-world Halloween party at the company's 80,000-square-foot headquarters and warehouse. Departments vie for prizes in an intense competition to outdo each other in both spectacular costumes and elaborate decorations.

The company has weathered the Great Recession despite losing $500,000 in the Borders bankruptcy, Weschcke said. He credited stringent controls put in place by his wife, and company president, Sandra Weschcke, for keeping the company profitable despite the Borders loss. Their son Gabe Weschcke is Llewellyn's vice president. The company ended its 2011 fiscal year June with $15 million in sales.

"For every change, there is opportunity," Weschcke said. "The main thing is to recognize change and be flexible and say that change is not bad. The only things that are bad are taxes." 

Weschcke traces his interest in metaphysics to his grandfather, a theosophist whose books he began reading at an early age. He has a degree in business administration from Babson College and studied philosophy at the University of Minnesota but left when he spotted a trade journal ad announcing that Llewellyn was for sale.

A champion of alternative approaches to "mind, body and spirit," Weschke has been described as "the father of the New Age" movement for helping to bring the metaphysical into the mainstream.

The company sponsored Gnosticon Festivals across the country in the 1970s, and opened an occult bookstore in Minneapolis. Weschcke reluctantly dropped such sidelines to concentrate on higher-margin book publishing.

Weschcke stepped back from daily leadership of Llewellyn in 2005 with the arrival of publisher Bill Krause, who has a history of working with entrepreneurial publishers in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Krause has helped conjure up growth for Llewellyn -- along with critical acclaim and spots on best-seller lists -- with the introduction of two new, not strictly metaphysical imprints: Midnight Ink, founded in 2005, which produces popular mystery paperbacks, and Flux, which began publishing young adult fiction in 2006. Krause is looking to expand adult fiction offerings next year with possible suspense-thriller titles.

Weschcke now concentrates on writing.

Joseph A. Amara, vice president of business development and an owner of Magus Books in Dinkytown, said that Llewellyn is "one of the great pillars" of its industry. The 19-year-old shop carries every Llewellyn product, with magic and Wiccan titles as the top sellers, Amara said.

Steve Madson, co-owner of the Bodhi Tree book shop in West Hollywood., Calif., said the store has carried some of Llewellyn's signature titles -- its "Moon Sign Book" and "Daily Planetary Guide" -- since it opened in 1970.

"They're one of the most reliable publishers of books on ritual magic or anything having to do with the western kind of magic," Madson said. "We've embraced really quite a lot of the Llewellyn book and product line." 

The experts says: The expert says: Cathy Paper, president of Minneapolis-based consulting firm RockPaperStar that works with authors and business owners, said Llewellyn Worldwide "is a magnetic brand in this world. They're the ones that the people that are into this stuff go to."

As evidence of that, and the company's online and social media savvy, Paper cited Llewellyn's 62,000 Facebook fans and 9,000-plus Twitter followers. She encouraged the company to offer additional online services to deepen that engagement with its fans.

Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is todd_nelson@mac.com.

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    Business: World's oldest and largest independent publisher of New Age and metaphysical books with titles on astrology, tarot, holistic wellness, alternative spirituality, magic, parapsychology and divination.

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