Minneapolis’s Milkweed Books Wants to Be Weird in the Best Way Possible

Minneapolis is getting a new bookstore—with a bit of a twist. Milkweed Editions, the local indie publisher that’s been creating books for almost 40 years, is opening a cozy shop in the Open Book building, home to Milkweed’s own editorial offices (as well as the Loft Literary Center and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, among other things). Alongside its own books, which will be in the minority when it comes to the store’s inventory, it will stock a unique collection of titles from a range of other publishers.

When I asked veteran Twin Cities bookseller Hans Weyandt, who will be managing the store, to describe what it will be like, he told me, “I want it to be small and I want it to be weird. And what I mean by that is I want people to come in and see books that they’re not seeing in other spaces.” Small it will definitely be—the future Milkweed Books space is an intimate, brick-walled little annex tucked behind Open Book’s coffee shop. The limited space means you won’t be able to find every book here; there just isn’t room to stock every volume in the Harry Potter series. But it also means the store will be nimble and able to change inventory on the fly. If what they stock on opening day turns out not to be what the neighborhood wants, they can change up their selection a lot more easily than the local Barnes & Noble.

Connexion, Open Book's coffee shop. The Milkweed bookstore will be in the space just through the "garage door."

Connexion, Open Book’s coffee shop. The Milkweed bookstore will be in the space just through the “garage door.”

For Weyandt, working here is a bit of a homecoming. He was part of Open Book’s original bookstore, a satellite location for St. Paul’s Ruminator Books (some might remember it as Hungry Mind), when the building opened in 2000. It closed only a few years later, a victim of the lack of foot traffic in the area, among other challenges. But a lot has changed since then: hundreds of new apartment and condo units, the relocated Guthrie Theater, the Mill City Museum, and the light rail mean this stretch of Washington Avenue gets a lot more visitors. “There are 50 things I could give to you that didn’t exist then as they do now,” Weyandt says. “The simple reality is this area was not ready to support a bookstore then, and I absolutely believe it is now.”

The gallery area in front of Open Book's event space.

The gallery area in front of Open Book’s event space.

Aside from what any new business has to deal with, bringing books back to the neighborhood for the first time in over 10 years will come with its own special challenges. But, Weyandt says, “we’re going to find out what this neighborhood wants, who is willing to come to this neighborhood from other parts of the Twin Cities . . . we’re going to find out a lot of things, and that will play a big part in how we go forward, and what we stock.”

Right across Washington Avenue from Open Book is just one of the many new housing complexes that's opened in this neighborhood since Ruminator Books closed in 2003.

Right across Washington Avenue from Open Book is just one of the many new housing complexes that’s opened in this neighborhood since Ruminator Books closed in 2003.

One unique thing about the store is that a lot of the people working the floor will be Milkweed Editions staff—that is, the people actually creating the books the press publishes. The person helping you navigate the shelves or ringing up your purchase might be an editor or a publicist for the press, and a changing display on the back wall will show visitors a bit about how books are made. The concept isn’t totally unheard of (Deep Vellum in Texas and Curbside Books & Records in Chicago are both bookstores run by publishers), but it’s definitely different from the usual model, and it’s sure to give the store a unique feel.

Freestanding woodne shelves filled with books in the middle of an office space

Books on display in the Milkweed publishing offices.

And it’s in capable hands with Weyandt, who knows a thing or two about bookselling—after Ruminator closed, he went on to co-own Micawber’s in St. Paul, where he worked until 2014. During that time, the blog he ran for the store, Mr. Micawber Enters the Internets, spawned a book of recommendations: Read This! Handpicked Favorites from America’s Indie Bookstores, put out by fellow Minneapolis indie publisher Coffee House Press. You might have also spotted him at Moon Palace Books at one time or another. He had thought he was done working in the world of books, but the idea of Milkweed Books was tempting enough to pull him back in.

One thing he wants to do with Milkweed is dispel the snobby stereotypes that might come to mind when people hear “boutique bookstore.” Friendliness and willingness to help people are at the top of Weyandt’s list of requirements for anyone working in the store. Interacting with the community and helping people find what they want—or what they don’t yet know they want—is one of the things he loves most about this line of work. He says, “To me, there’s no greater joy as a bookseller than when someone comes into the store and says, ‘Help me find a birthday present for my niece.’ ‘Help me find a Christmas present for my wife.’ ‘Help me read the next book that I’m going to love.’ That’s hard, but it’s awesome. That’s the best thing about it, and it happens every day.”

An illustration of a shop space with white walls and hardwood floors

An initial rendering of what the shop might look like. Courtesy Milkweed Books

And like any good bookseller, he left me with a recommendation: Things That Are, a book of essays by Amy Leach that Milkweed published a few years ago, which Weyandt called “tricky” and “brilliant.” By all indications, the same could be said about Milkweed Books.

Open Book

Open Book.

Milkweed is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds leading up to the store’s grand opening. The big event happens Tuesday, September 20, at 1011 S Washington Avenue, Suite 107.

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