Garrison Keillor's labor of love has newer, bigger digs as of Monday. The fanfare and hoopla come in May, with a three-day grand opening.
The bright red awnings have been up for a while, fluttering above the picture windows that look out on Snelling Avenue. "Common Good Books," says one, in white letters. "G. Keillor, prop.," says the other.
Inside, the space, rented from Macalester College, has been gutted, new tin ceiling hung, walls painted, track lighting installed, bookcases hauled in, books arranged -- front covers facing out, the way G. Keillor, prop., prefers.
The store opens quietly Monday, then will have a great-big whiz-bang three-day grand opening at the beginning of May.
Common Good Books is owned by St. Paul writer Garrison Keillor, and since 2006 has been housed in the basement of the Blair Arcade in St. Paul's Cathedral Hill neighborhood. The little shop with the black-and-white checkerboard floor was popular, but it was also cramped and had no room to grow.
Enter Macalester, which leased to Keillor a suite in its Lampert Building at 38 S. Snelling Av. (Remodeling the suite came to about $550,000, part of about $1.6 million Macalester paid for refurbishing the whole building.) The arrangement was through the college's High Winds Fund, dedicated to keeping the neighborhood around the college safe and vibrant.
The Blair Arcade location closed March 29, and the intervening 10 days were spent boxing up books and hauling them three miles to the new digs. The new space is bigger (3,000 square feet as opposed to 1,800) and brighter (it's hard to have picture windows in a basement), and Keillor hopes that it will be more financially successful, as well.
"I've lost an obscene amount of money," said the host of "A Prairie Home Companion." "But it's all fine. It was a choice between going into the independent book business, or having a party in a parking lot and burning $20 bills."
His vision for the new location was inspired by visits to Daunt Books in London, a lovely Edwardian bookstore with skylights and galleries and long shelves where titles are arranged face-out. "You're sort of overwhelmed by the beauty of it," Keillor said. "To someone of my age, who grew up loving books, that's a powerful thing."
His goal with the store is not to make a pile of money, but to not lose a pile, either. He does, however, acknowledge that independent bookstores might be fading from our landscape.
"I feel like I'm opening a typewriter repair shop, or a store that sells 100 different kinds of carbon paper. But who cares? If you're an author and you grew up in the stacks of the Anoka Public Library, you owe it to people to try one more time."
A bookstore, he said, is an important place, especially for young people. "You go online to find specific titles," he said. His store, he said, will be stocked for browsing. "You want to have a representative, interesting collection of books that people in the neighborhood deserve to know about. They can open them, read the jacket, read the first two pages. They can hold the book in their hands."
While he has no objection to e-readers (his wife has one), the printed book is precious to Keillor. "With a book, you can rip out pages and give them to somebody. You can lend the book to a friend. You can read outside in the sunshine."
Keillor's plans for the store's grand opening in May call for audience participation and interaction. The first night will be what he called a "spring poetry free-for-all" at Macalester's Weyerhaeuser Chapel. One hundred poems about spring will be written out and stuck to the walls, and people can grab what they like, go up to the microphone and read the poem aloud.
The second night will be a launch party for his latest book, "Guy Noir and the Straight Skinny." Keillor, Tim Russell and Sue Scott will do a dramatic reading from the book.
And the third night Keillor plans to position two stools at the front of the bookstore and will invite members of the audience to come up and tell him a story. "I do get to ask them questions," he said. "It'll be like a little master class. Tell me your story and let me guide you."