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How a feminist bookstore got a zero-hour reprieve

You can’t keep a good woman’s bookstore down.

Last week, it looked like the Amazon Bookstore Cooperative was on its last page: The inventory was gutted. The “For Lease” sign was in the window. The customers were crestfallen.

Then suddenly, the Minneapolis store got a reprieve. Within the space of a week, longtime customer Ruta Skujins became the new owner.

“I belong to several online literary groups, and I kept hearing about these great bookstores closing, in places like Iowa and Boston. When I heard that Amazon was closing, I thought, ‘No, that can’t happen,’ ” she said. “I talked with Barb Wieser [manager and most veteran employee of the cooperative] back in February about gathering a group of investors, but it just didn’t come together, so I gave up on the idea. But it bothered me.”

Then last week, Skujin’s partner ran into Barb at a concert, who told her the 38-year-old store had lowered its price but had not found a buyer, and was now in its final days. “I called Barb the next day, we met last Thursday, came to an agreement, shook on it, and I still can’t believe it, but I own a bookstore,” said Skujin.

Skujin is an avid reader whose personal collection of 10,000 books could probably restock Amazon’s shelves, depleted by the closing sale. The sale ends today (June 20), and after that the shelves will be refilled. She’s also an editor at two lesbian publishing houses, Regal Crest Enterprises and Intaglio, and says her connections in both the feminist and the book communities will help her reshape the store’s future. But it’s perhaps Skujin’s background in the corporate world that will be most handy; she put in more than three decades at St. Paul-based Ecolab, and is looking at the store from a business perspective as well as a book lover’s.

A rebirth begins
“The store needs some serious marketing work. For one thing, I’d like to be more welcoming of the community around the store. This is a neighborhood bookstore, and it’s in a neighborhood with a lot of kids. My daughter is a naturalist, and she’s going to come in and create some special programming,” she said. “We also need to reach out to the younger women in the community. The store has a devoted base of longtime customers, but I often meet young women who have never even heard of the store. That’s going to change.”

These days, catching the attention of younger customers means getting online, and Skujin plans to give the bookstore a more visible Internet presence with Facebook and MySpace. However, the brick-and-mortar Amazon sued over use of the name several years ago, and the terms of the settlement mean the feminist bookstore must tread carefully in the online world. Which raises the question: What about a name change? Skujin doesn’t rule it out.

“I’m getting together with authors and feminist friends, and that will be a topic of conversation,” she says. She considers this phase of the store’s history a rebirth, and if a new name seems in order, so be it. Most important is that the store stays open. “People are so happy. They are coming in with glowing faces, and it feels really great to be here.”

Upcoming events

A well-staged photo of a plate of food can certainly make one’s mouth water. But Lynne Rossetto Kasper can create the same effect by merely talking about food. As host of Minnesota Public Radio’s “The Splendid Table” and the author of several cookbooks, Kasper’s rhapsodic descriptions of food elevate eating to an art.
What: Talk of the Stacks reading series
When: 7 p.m., Tuesday June 24
Where: Minneapolis Central Library

N.M. Kelby is the star graduate of Hamline University’s MFA program, was a Tamarack Award runner-up, and picked up a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship – before she hightailed it out of town to Florida’s sunny shores, where she now enjoys a highly successful career writing fiction. So, can we still call her a Minnesota writer? Sure, for a day or two. She’ll be back in town to read from her new book, “Murder at the Bad Girl’s Bar and Grill.”
What: Reading
When: 4 p.m., Wednesday June 25
Where: University of Minnesota Bookstores
Phone: 612-625-6000

Kelby also will read here:
When: 7 p.m. June 26
Where: Magers & Quinn Booksellers, 3038 Hennepin Ave. South, Minneapolis

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