The Twin Cities bookstore scene has gone through a lot of changes in the first part of 2019. St. Paul’s Sixth Chamber started selling off inventory in January ahead of closing its doors, followed by Micawber’s in March after owner Tom Bielenberg was injured in a fall. In nearby Stillwater, Loome Books has also closed. But there’s new life, too. The former Common Good Books has a new owner and a new name, Next Chapter Booksellers, and the metro is getting three brand-new stores: the Irreverent Bookworm is coming to Minneapolis’s Hale neighborhood this fall, Storied Owl Books is opening soon in the same St. Paul building that once housed Addendum Books, and Cream & Amber has been doing business in downtown Hopkins since February.
Cream & Amber owners Katie Terhune and Kasey Wyttenhove, both Minnesotans, met at Luther College in Iowa and graduated in 2011. The idea that would become the store started percolating around that time, though not as a serious one at first—more as a running joke that if they weren’t happy with their postcollege careers, they could always open a bookstore. But as time went on, it started to seem like less of a far-fetched idea.
“About three or four years ago, we decided to each start saving a little money each month to put toward our future bookstore/bar,” Wyttenhove explains. “It was a small first step but led us to officially registering the business with the state of Minnesota about a year later and then starting a business plan.” There was still a long road ahead of them—on top of needing a space for their store, they wanted to serve coffee and alcohol, not to mention food made onsite, all of which require extra approvals on top of the legal steps any other retail business needs to go through. Eventually they checked all the boxes, and the store officially opened at the end of February.
They’re selling both new and used books based on a combination of perennial favorites, interesting finds, and the latest bestsellers (including, of course, local authors and publishers). The decision to stock both new and used came when the owners realized each of them had been imagining a slightly different bookstore—Wyttenhove had an all-used bookstore in mind, while Terhune was thinking they would sell brand-new books with all the latest titles. They decided to compromise, and so far the store has been holding steady at a roughly even split between the two. The pair’s personal reading interests also help diversify their stock: Wyttenhove is more of a fiction reader, while Terhune tends to stick with nonfiction.
The name Cream & Amber comes from a poem that, at least according to an apocryphal story, Edgar Allan Poe wrote to pay off a bar tab. We might never know the truth, but no matter who wrote it, a poem about beer is an unquestionably appropriate reference for a bookstore that serves it. The store has a continually rotating selection of local beers filling six set slots: light, dark, seasonal, hoppy, different, and a “beer of the moment.” Coffee comes from St. Paul’s Bootstrap Coffee Roasters, and tea from Minneapolis’s appropriately literary Bingley’s (previously featured here on Twin Cities Geek).
Bookstores with attached coffee shops and bars are far from a new concept, of course, but Terhune and Wyttenhove wanted to mix them all together more than you might see elsewhere—a store, café, and bar all at the same time, rather than in adjoining spaces. Although there’s an area at the back with some tables off on their own, the main café counter and bar are right among the books. There is also a semiprivate “community room” for book clubs and other groups who want to reserve it.
That’s a lot of things to fit into a footprint of only some 1,500 square feet, but Cream & Amber doesn’t feel crowded. It doesn’t feel sparse, either—the book selection is not just there as window dressing. No, the store is not the overwhelming labyrinth-of-books experience of a store like Magers & Quinn or Uncle Hugo’s, but it’s not trying to be; it’s more on the Milkweed Books end of the spectrum.
At the end of the day, they want to be a neighborhood hangout, where people can gather to read, share a drink, grab a bite, or all three. “We want all members of the community to be welcome at Cream & Amber, and we see the shop as a gathering place where you can connect with friends, family, or maybe even strangers,” says Wyttenhove. And they seem to be succeeding; when I visited a few weeks after opening, almost every seat at the bar was filled, as were many of the back-room tables, and there were a healthy number of shoppers browsing the shelves—all at 3:00 on a weekday afternoon. “We’ve already seen people gathering for book clubs and birthday parties in our community room, and neighbors meeting each other for the first time at our bar,” Wyttenhove adds. “It’s wonderful that we can be a part of these interactions.”