The cozy mystery bookstore just six steps down from street level, the one with the, um, dead body on the sign outside and the yellow crime tape winding through the inside, the one with a resident border collie mix named Shamus, the one that helped launch the careers of countless local mystery writers, is up for sale.

Once Upon a Crime Bookstore, at 604 W. 26th St., is owned by Gary Shulze and Pat Frovarp, who met there, got married there, and bought the place (not exactly in that order). "It's been a great 13 years, and we will miss it, but too many factors — age and health concerns primarily — are telling us it's time to retire," said Shulze, who has been battling a recurrence of cancer for many months.

He didn't name a price, but it is the inventory and the name that will be sold. Not the building, which doesn't belong to them, and not Shamus, who does. "And the goodwill — there's no price for that," Shulze said.

The store is well-known and beloved by mystery readers and writers all over the country. It has been a regular stop for writers on tour, including John Connolly, John Lescroart, Brad Taylor, William Kent Krueger, Laura Childs, Brian Freeman and the late Vince Flynn. In 2011, the store was awarded the Raven Award by the Mystery Writers of America — the top Edgar Award for bookstores, libraries, editors and other lovers (but not writers) of mysteries.

The bookstore has long had a reputation as being a great supporter of local authors, both of mysteries and other fiction. "They're a class act," Plymouth mystery writer Gerry Schmitt (better known by her pen name Laura Childs) told the Star Tribune in 2011. "They carry your books; they carry your back list; they do publicity; they host launch parties and events. They're phenomenal."

The couple bought the store from Steve Stilwell in 2002. They've kept it welcoming, well-stocked (Shulze estimates they have about 30,000 titles), low-key and low-tech.

Shulze fell ill with leukemia in 2007, and was hospitalized for nearly three months, leaving Frovarp to run the store alone. It was beyond stressful. "I didn't know if I was on foot or on horseback," she said. "But I just kept going." And people started showing up — authors, customers, publishers' reps — to help.

"They restocked shelves, ran the till, shoveled snow," she said. "The mystery community is so incredible."

Shulze said Tuesday that the volunteers have been out in full force again during his recent illness. "If they're not bringing meals, they're telling Pat to go home, they'll lock up," he said. "It's a great place to hang out. I'll hang out here, after it's sold."

To read a profile of the bookstore and its beginnings, go to: