If this were a novel, a hero could have saved Charlie Leonard’s store from the evils of e-books and bulldozers.
But this is real life — and the Twin Cities’ oldest remaining independent bookstore is closing, joining the list of local booksellers that have fallen victim to changing reading habits and the rise of electronic media.
The Bookcase in Wayzata will shut its doors Oct. 18, owner Leonard said Tuesday. Founded in 1963, the Bookcase was a fixture in downtown Wayzata for generations.
“In theory, Wayzata should be a fabulous place to have an independent bookstore,” Leonard said. “We’re blessed to have people who are very well-educated and literate, and not necessarily price-conscious.
“But the changing shopping habits of buyers, the dominance of everything from Amazon to Costco — they’ve had a devastating effect on the book industry.” The Bookcase also took a hit from a strictly local issue. Years of disruption and road closures related to endless construction projects helped dry up his traffic, Leonard said.
“For the last five to 10 years, the city has been in an ongoing redevelopment project that has involved road closures and empty real estate. And it has gone on eons longer than anyone ever imagined,” said Leonard, who bought the Bookcase six years ago after working there for a decade. “Last year, the road outside our store was closed for six months. Just getting to us was a challenge.”
Several beloved Twin Cities independent bookstores have closed in recent years, including the Hungry Mind (known as Ruminator Books in its final years) and Baxter’s Books. Nationally, the number of independent bookstores — about 2,000 — is around half the total of 20 years ago, according to the American Booksellers Association.
Like losing ‘an old friend’
The Bookcase’s closing “feels like the death of an old friend,” St. Paul author William Kent Krueger wrote in an e-mail from Europe, where he’s traveling. “At its heart, the Bookcase has been the essence of what a reading community is all about, a place where we’ve come together. We should look on this as we might the disappearance of a star from the sky. If we’re not careful, that whole sky will soon be dark.”
Minneapolis writer Peter Geye said independent bookstores are indispensable to authors who don’t write blockbuster bestsellers.
“Like most things in life, there are different levels in the food chain,” Geye said. “And for a writer like myself, who works with a small press and writes what’s called literary fiction, I don’t exist without bookstores like the Bookcase.
“It’s sad that we’re losing another independent bookstore. And it’s a significant and palpable loss,” he said. “I take it personally, I guess. I know I shouldn’t, but I do.”
Greater than its small size
At the Bookcase on Tuesday afternoon, well-stocked shelves and comfy chairs waited for customers who never came. Finally, a man entered and headed straight for the history section, where he browsed the titles before asking the staff for recommendations.”
“It’s a serious loss,” said the customer, former Gov. Arne Carlson. “This place has been an institution. It’s a place to peruse and socialize. And if you’re a history buff, there’s not one book here you wouldn’t want to read.”
Wayzata Mayor Ken Willcox called the Bookcase “a treasured enterprise in Wayzata for many, many years. It’s really a very unfortunate loss for the city.”
Willcox said the city’s small size means that retail space is at a premium, with a result being “some staggering rents in Wayzata.” The city’s redevelopment is an effort to add retail space and help attract more stores.
The Bookcase, Willcox said, “sort of typifies in many ways the small-town kind of character that we prize. But it also had an importance in the book industry that was far greater than the size of the enterprise.”