Mary Taris expects big things for her bookstore on Nicollet Mall in downtown Minneapolis.

So do leaders of the city's Downtown Council.

Strive Bookstore, which Taris opened in June at 9th Street and Nicollet Mall in the former JB Hudson Jewelers store, sells the works of local and national independent — and often underrepresented —authors and publishers, mainly those who are African-American. To supplement book sales, Tanis uses her store as a venue for social events centered on literature, with book signings, book club meetings and open mic readings that bring people downtown.

The ongoing reinvention of Nicollet Mall is viewed by many as the most important step in downtown's revitalization. Foot traffic increased slightly last year compared to 2022, but organizations and task forces all agree changes are needed to speed up the mall's transformation into a 24-hour entertainment and retail district. Those changes include filling vacant storefronts, both at the street level and in the skyways, with businesses that keep shoppers engaged for long periods of time.

"I'm a reader, so I'm biased, but any sort of retail that's more engaging, like a bookstore or place where you can put your hands on the thing that you're thinking about buying, that kind of interaction is what's missing right now for consumers who don't want to shop on the internet," said Adam Duininck, chief executive of the Minneapolis Downtown Council. "Some of them want to come downtown and physically see what it is they're about to buy."

With at least 65% of downtown's workforce now coming to the office in some capacity each week and a growing downtown residential population of nearly 60,000 people, Taris' small, Black-owned bookstore is now part of the city's strategy to turn Nicollet Mall into a more inclusive and vibrant destination.

Downtown hasn't had a large bookstore presence since the Barnes & Noble anchoring RSM Plaza closed in April 2017. Without a marquee tenant to attract shoppers, such as a Nike Store or Apple Store, small-business storefronts like Strive are key to growing retail on Nicollet Mall, said Duininck, who sees Strive as one of downtown's marquee projects via Chameleon Shoppes, an initiative of the Downtown Council designed to place locally owned small businesses into vacant retail space downtown.

Taris was able to secure the street-level unit of the Young-Quinlan Building, where she has leased through June of 2025.

"Downtown is a unique place," Duininck said. "It's not the same as a suburban community or a rural community. I think we can lift up unique places like the Strive Bookstore. It's not the kind of bookstore that you find in any city or town. But in our downtown, it's unique."

Taris initially opened the bookstore to promote sales of Black authors signed to her publishing company, Strive Publishing, which she launched in 2018. Taris is transitioning her publishing model into a hybrid one, where authors pay for publishing services. She has also expanded her bookstore model by partnering with independent publishers to promote the works of other independent authors who could also be described as overlooked or nonmainstream, whether they be white, Asian or Hispanic, Taris said.

"Coming from the publishing world, we know how hard it is to get your books in the bookstores," she said. "The flip side of that coin is it's very challenging to build a bookstore inventory on very little funds. So they bring in their books, we sell them, they get a percent, and we get a percent."

While sales have been decent, Strive Bookstore is dependent on the inconsistent ebb and flow of daily downtown foot traffic, which could result in anywhere "from 250 people in one day to five people," Taris said. Located across the street from the downtown Target store on Nicollet Mall, people often walk in hoping she has the book they couldn't find on the mega retailer's self. She would rather they use her bookstore to find something "they didn't know they would like."

For a while, her storefront lacked signage, so potential shoppers walked past, not realizing it was a bookstore, Taris said. Newly placed signs in the store windows should help, she said.

Mostly, shoppers at the bookstore are visitors staying downtown for a convention or conference, Taris said. Those visitors, part of a near 50% increase in convention attendees in Minneapolis last year according to Meet Minneapolis, tell other conference attendees about the store, increasing book purchases over a course of several days, she said.

Taris wants more consistent traffic from local residents, though, to help grow and sustain one of the few Black-owned bookstores in the nation. There are reportedly fewer than 140 nationwide, with Strive being one of three in Minnesota. Her intent is to make her store a literacy hub stocked with the works of diverse authors from around the world, giving Minnesotans and out of towners a place to connect "so we all get to know each other and respect each other," she said.

"It's extremely important," Taris said. "It would show that we have unity in our community, regardless of what background you come from."