At the height of the countercultural movement, Savran’s Paperback Shop was the place to be in Minneapolis.
The bookstore was nestled in the corner of a building on Cedar Avenue and opened in the 1960s as the West Bank was becoming the hip off-campus neighborhood in the city. College students, hippies, beatniks, writers and scholars would walk to Savran’s to pick up a book, listen to a reading or simply chat.
Behind the store’s appeal was Bill Savran, a University of Minnesota graduate who loved literature and the local minds that gathered around it. Savran, who ran the shop for more than 20 years, died Sept. 20 from natural causes, according to his family. He was 84.
Like the titles that lined his store, Savran lived a life filled with colorful characters.
He and Bob Dylan were part of the same fraternity at the University of Minnesota, said Laurie Savran, his first wife. In the Army, he served in the same platoon as Elvis Presley. At his bookstore, he was visited by fixtures of art and culture such as Patti Smith and Annie Leibovitz.
But the lively spirit of Savran’s Paperback Shop was not summoned on its own. Friends and family say it was Savran’s warmth, informality and creativity that emanated from every wall and shelf.
“The bookstore ran like a family. People came through the door and were treated like family. And that couldn’t have happened without Bill,” said Marly Rusoff, a literary agent who began her career as an employee at Savran’s.
He learned about retail as a child in Bismarck, N.D., where his parents, Jewish immigrants from Europe, ran a department store. The family moved to the Twin Cities when Savran started at the U. The college experience was eye-opening for Savran, Laurie said. After graduating, he visited and worked at bookstores in Boston and San Francisco.
He opened Savran’s Paperback Shop in 1965. Savran decorated the store to suit his eccentric style, installing vintage cash registers, hanging rice paper lamps from the ceiling and designing his own window displays.
The book selection was just as eclectic. There were literary magazines and journals, rare and out-of-print books, poetry compilations, college textbooks. He even sold “The Anarchist Cookbook,” a guide on how to make explosives.
Over time, Savran’s became a hub for the intellectual and cultural community in Minneapolis.
“People would go out of town, and when they came back in town the first place they would come would be Savran’s to find out what was happening,” Laurie said.
Savran’s employees eventually started their own successful enterprises, including Play It Again Sports.
After working at the store for a few years, Rusoff and Savran opened another bookshop in Dinkytown. Rusoff and her writer friends would host readings, events and parties in the apartment above that store, a literary community that later incorporated as the Loft.
Rusoff, who now runs her own literary agency, credits Savran with showing her it was possible to make a living from literature.
“I was struggling to find out what I could do in life, and by giving me a job in a bookstore, it was a great clarifying moment. What could I do that was better than this?” she said.
Priced out by national bookstore chains and rising rent, Savran closed Savran’s Paperback Shop in 1987.
After closing the store, Savran started a handyman business, A Real Mensch Repairs, and worked at Magers & Quinn Booksellers in Uptown. He wrote short stories, anecdotes about the people he met, and little poems about the sights and sounds around him. He read constantly.
Savran is survived by his daughters Deborah and Jessica, son Jeremy Savran and grandchildren. A memorial will be held on Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. through the video messaging service Zoom. The link is bit.ly/3jij0Y2.