You can't keep a good feminist bookstore down.
The Amazon Bookstore Cooperative, the nation's longest-operating feminist bookseller, had announced plans to close later this month. People had been passing through the aisles in south Minneapolis daily, offering condolences, seeking bargains and finally using those gift cards.
But no more. Ruta Skujins, a St. Paul native with 33 years in the corporate world who had always dreamed of owning a bookstore, now does. She's drawing down her IRA to invest in the 38-year-old business, which has a national reputation as a feminist icon and as a survivor.
"That's how much I believe the store can be turned around and returned to its glory days," said Skujins, 56, who now lives in Minneapolis.
Her purchase makes her the first sole owner of a store that was founded in 1970 as a workers' cooperative.
Barb Wieser, the president and general manager who has been with the store for 22 years, sounded a little sad about that shift, "but that's the reality of today. It's very difficult for independent booksellers to stay open."
Nor is it easy to turn around a "going out of business" sale. Inventories had been whittled, the website taken down, contracts closed, lists deleted. But offers of help are already arriving. Skujins said a graphic designer in Australia has offered free help with ad brochures, authors are offering to send packages of signed books to replenish the stock, while others are volunteering to do readings.
"It's just unreal," said Skujins, who took early retirement from Ecolab after breaking her shoulder in a motorcycle accident. "I hope the scare reminds people how important independent feminist bookstores are."
Skujins, the mother of two daughters in their 20s, came out as a lesbian a few years ago. While stranded by Hurricane Francis in Key West in 2004, she discovered lesbian literature at "the only bookstore around," she said.
When her partner, Joann Bell, arrived from Chicago for a concert last week, they decided to act to save a place that had become important to them. On Thursday, they met with Wieser, and Skujins' childhood dream came into focus.
The store, which moved in 1999 from its longtime location in Loring Park to 4755 Chicago Av. S., will remain there.
In the goodbye letter to customers, Wieser recalled how the store hosted such authors as Annie Leibovitz, Gloria Steinem, Rebecca Walker and Ani DeFranco.
One of its finest hours came in 1999 when Wieser, frustrated with customers' confusion with online bookseller Amazon.com, filed a trademark-infringement lawsuit against the Seattle retailer. The brick-and-mortar Amazon said the online Amazon's use of the name diminished the value of its far older identity.
In an out-of-court settlement, the bookstore retained the authority to refer to itself as Amazon Bookstore Cooperative, while transferring the right to the Amazon name to those who occupy cyberspace.
Kim Ode • 612-673-7185