Mar 272010
Spy Twin Cities review of Common Good Books, St. Paul, MN

St. Paul’s Common Good Books moved in spring 2012 from Ramsey Hill to Grand and Snelling

FOR THOSE OF US whose evening whims have been known to involve the two essential Bs—bistros and bookstores, both of the indie variety—Minneapolis and St. Paul offer a treasured pair of choices for after-dinner book browsing.

Never mind that the Twin Cities have nothing to equal the bookstore-cum-cafe heaven of Washington, D.C.’s bustling Kramerbooks & Afterwords . . . or that the closest we came—the singular Table of Contents cafe/wine bar housed alongside the great Hungry Mind/Ruminator Books on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue—left us high, dry, and thoroughly heartbroken over a decade ago.

But lucky us: We’ve got two terrific indie bookstores keeping late hours in the Twin Cities, one on each side of the river, both within strolling or zippy driving distance from some of our fave eateries.

In Minneapolis, the deeply satisfying, bargain-friendly Magers & Quinn—a maze of new, used, and collectible books in Uptown, housed in an eccentric 1922 building once home to a Chevrolet dealership—is open ’til 10 (11 on Friday and Saturday) and is just around the corner from Lucia’s restaurant/wine bar (and the Lucia’s To Go/Bakery I love for truly gourmet meals on the cheap).

Across the river, St. Paul’s Common Good Books—Garrison Keillor’s appealing and well-stocked haven of new books, housed in a historic building owned by Macalester College—is open ’til 9 (7 on Sunday). It moved in April 2012 from its original home in Ramsey Hill, where it was cozily tucked into the basement of an 1887 Victorian apartment house, directly under Nina’s Coffee Cafe in the splendid and historic Blair Flats (just across the street from the agreeable bar and patio at W.A. Frost) (It was also mere blocks from my fave Mango Thai Cafe.Common Good Books is lovely, however, in its much larger space on the other end of Summit Avenue—and there’s delicious irony to be found in its current location.

Common Good’s elegant store at Snelling and Grand is in the 1923 Lampert Building. Leased from Macalester College, which will continue to operate its campus textbook store on the second floor, the storefront (at 38 N. Snelling) is just half a block from where Hungry Mind/Ruminator operated for 34 years.

And one more perfect twist: the former Common Good space in Nina’s now is home to yet another great indie bookstore, Subtext.

Spy Twin Cities feature on Minneapolis and St. Paul bookstores--Magers and Quinn

Magers & Quinn in Minneapolis Uptown has new books as well as a great selection of used.

  • Magers & Quinn Booksellers | 3038 Hennepin Ave., Minneapolis | 612-822-4611 | Hours: Sun-Thurs 10-10; Fri-Sat 10-11 | Store motto: “A Bounty of the World’s Best Books Assembled by Biblioholic Booksellers.” | Also check out M&Q’s engaging blog.

What’s to Love: Addictive and deeply pleasurable, the frumpy-funky M&Q is a browser’s delight, curiously enhanced (really!) by the very faint wafts of cigar smoke from the tobacconist next door. Beckoning tables of new releases open onto many marvelous rows of used, remaindered, and collectible books, all of them well-culled, high-quality, and remarkably well-organized. Gems are waiting to be discovered in every aisle. The staff is smart, quirky, knowledgeable, welcoming. Corners and nooks abound.

Our Chicago pals have repeatedly visited M&Q and always can’t wait to come back (and that’s saying something, because they live around the corner from Hyde Park’s wonderful Seminary Co-op Bookstore).

  • Common Good Books | 38 S. Snelling Ave., St. Paul | 651-225-8989 | Hours: Sun 10-7; Mon-Sat 9-9 | Store motto: “Live Local, Read Large.”

What’s to Love: This elegant and airy biblio-oasis is the antithesis of the mega-chains. Its front tables are heaped with thoughtfully chosen new fiction and poetry … as well as splendid nonfiction with nary an Ann Coulter or Dr. Phil in sight. The store is packed with books, with selections both wide and in some cases (poetry, for instance) surprisingly deep.

Modernist in design, with a clean simplicity to its rows of tall shelves at odd angles, the store is also warm and comfortable. Section titles are eccentric: “Quality Trash,” for one, and “God/Adventure/Travel” is another. The staff, friendly and well-read, treat customers like old friends. The store sends e-mail deals, and a “frequent buyer’s card” brings a free book every now and then.

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  2 Responses to “TC Biblio Beat: After-Dinner Bookstores”

  1. I think of all the long-lost bookstores … Gringolet, Odegards, Hungry Mind/Ruminator, … even the first Borders in Calhoun Square/Minneapolis, when it still felt like an independent and hadn’t yet gone corporate-wild and commercial mass-market.

    One of the great things about the independents is that the people behind the counter are Book People. They love the smell and the feel of books, the textures of both the paper and the printed words, the sound of pages turning. They understand the deliciousness of curling into a chair for a long savory read, and the endless compulsion to buy yet another book, and another, to add to the ever-higher yet-to-be-read stack ….

    Browsing online may be efficient and productive (and the purchases cheaper), but what’s more satisfying than wandering through a browser’s paradise with your partner in life, collecting a small stack of possible good reads, then finding a few comfy chair sin a corner where the two of you can skim the pages, share your finds, compare notes, and select those special few that will go home with you?

    Thanks, spytwincities, for giving me space to think about books and other precious things that hang by a thread in (or are already gone from) this world.

  2. Kindred spirits. Losses still worth mourning … especially Hungry Mind in its prime and the lovely light-filled literary den that was Odegard’s of St. Paul, which had an 18-year run (1978-1996) on the northeast corner of Victoria and Grand (across the street from Cafe Latte).

    This gem was (according to owner Michele Cromer-Poire in news articles at the time) done in as much by parking problems as by the Barnes & IgNoble superstores cropping up nearby.

    Odegard’s was known as a writer’s bookstore. You’d bump into local authors and poets in the store’s tiny carpeted aisles. The light plaster walls were covered with scrawled messages and signatures from perhaps hundreds of writers who’d done readings at the store, from local marvels like Patricia Hampl to national luminaries. Chunks of that wall were auctioned off at the end of the shop’s run (one of us in the SpyTC orbit has a piece sporting a message from Amy Tan).

    Cromer-Poire still owns the wonderful children’s bookstore called the Red Balloon at Victoria & Grand.

    The splendid Common Good Books seems like the closest we’ll get to an Odegard’s reincarnation … maybe you’ll agree? And Micawber’s, in the charming St. Anthony Park neighborhood on the Minneapolis-St. Paul border (near Muffuletta Restaurant and the original Bibelot Shop!) also feels a little bit like an Odegard’s heir, although its selection is far smaller (and the truth is that it is run by a couple of exiles from Hungry Mind/Ruminator, so perhaps that is the truer provenance for Micawber’s).

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