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Bookmark These Unique Minnesota Bookstores

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Subtext Books in downtown St. Paul / Tony Webster, shared under CC BY-2.0

Bookmark These Unique Minnesota Bookstores

By Lorena Armstrong-Duarte

Whether you’re looking for the perfect novel to curl up with in front of the fireplace, or seeking a short story collection to take to the lake, you’ll find every kind of bookstore in Minnesota.

And while we live in the age of quick online ordering, it seems that Minnesotans still find great pleasure in browsing a brick-and-mortar bookshop, in the conversations they have, and in the connections they make with fellow book lovers and passionate booksellers.

So whether you’re visiting for the weekend or a long-time Minnesotan, take advantage. Explore the many unique bookstores around you, find a new treasure, and settle in for a cozy read.

Woman shopping at Red Balloon Books

Stop into Red Balloon Books on St. Paul's charming Grand Avenue

Twin Cities Favorites

The abundance and range of Twin Cities bookstores is astounding.

There are the respected elder statesmen of the group, like Magers & QuinnMidway Used and Rare Book, and the Book House in Dinkytown. There are neighborhood favorites like Downtown St. Paul’s Subtext Books, Northeast’s Eat My Words and Standish's Dream Haven Books & Comics (which holds a special place in the heart of esteemed fantasy author Neil Gaiman). And there are the specialists like Once Upon a Crime, or Uncle Hugo's Science Fiction Bookstore.

Not sure where to start? Here are a few unique bookstores you won’t want to miss:

Moon Palace Books

Like something out of a wonderful dream, Moon Palace Books is what you get when you combine a vast collection of books, a 110-seat music venue and some of the best pizza slices in the Twin Cities. Originally opened as a tiny little book shop in 2012, the store moved into its massive new space in 2017—drastically expanding its shelves and operations in the process. No longer confined to a small, one-room storefront, Moon Palace has evolved into one of the Twin Cities' most popular spaces for author readings, experimental performances and simply getting lost in the shelves. And after a long afternoon of browsing, be sure to sit down for a slice at the in-house restaurant, Geek Love Cafe.

Birchbark Books

Birchbark Books, founded by lauded Minnesota author Louise Erdrich, describes itself as a cozy little neighborhood bookstore and "locus for Indigirati—literate Indigenous people who have survived over half a millennium on this continent." It sponsors readings by Native and non-Native writers, journalists and historians. A strong commitment to ecological responsibility has led to a unique space complete with a personal confessional and a "hobbit hole" for children to play in. Find it nestled on a quiet little strip of stores in Minneapolis's Kenwood neighborhood, by Lake of the Isles.

The Irreverent Bookworm

Newcomer The Irreverent Bookworm is the lifelong dream of Meg Niesen and her partner Donovan. Selling used and new books from a quiet corner of south Minneapolis, this bookish wonderland opened its doors in September 2019. “Our goal is to maintain a uniquely playful, welcoming and down-to-earth bookshop for our diverse community of readers,” says Niesen, “We truly want folks to feel at ease and at home when they walk through our door.”

Wild Rumpus interior

Wild Rumpus is like a children's book come to life / Kent Kanouse, shared under CC BY-2.0

Children's Bookstores in the Twin Cities

Red Balloon Bookshop

Located in the heart of St. Paul’s Mac-Groveland neighborhood is the award-winning, 35-year-old Red Balloon Bookshop. A statue of bookish bears greets you out front, and inside you’ll find everything to spark your child’s love of books: Imaginative storytimes, best-selling national authors, and a wide selection of books, toys and gifts.

Wild Rumpus

Wild Rumpus is the first children’s bookstore to be named Publishers Weekly’s Bookstore of the Year, and a favorite of many Twin Cities families. This Linden Hills staple used Anne Mazer’s “The Salamander Room” as a sort of blueprint for the store, and walking through its doors feels like entering a children’s book come to life. There is a painted, 3D mural on the ceiling, and the whole back of the store feels as if you’re in a garden complete with (real!) cats, birds and even a tarantula named after the Harry Potter character, Rubeus Hagrid.

Storied Owl Books

Newly opened Storied Owl Books is a family-owned independent bookstore in St. Paul carrying half-adult, half-children's books—and bulk candy! The store hosts craft time, author visits, and story times with Rosie, the store’s resident golden retriever.

Greater Minnesota Favorites

Zenith Bookstore

Zenith Bookstore in Duluth was founded by Bob and Angel Dobrow in July 2017. “We spent our early years together wandering the great bookstores of New York City,” says Bob, and after retirement decided to start their own shop in Duluth. The exposed brick, high ceilings, front facade mural and quirky displays make the space a special place in the city, exactly what Bob hoped for. “Independent bookstores are all about community, local economy, and being a safe place,” he says. “They are the heart and soul of a vibrant and connected community.”

Once Read: Second Hand Bookstore & Exchange

Once Read: Second Hand Bookstore & Exchange in Mankato is not just a bookstore, it’s an experience. With a building constructed in 1870 it cheekily leans into its history and informs visitors of several “Unsolved Mysteries of the Building,” most of which revolve around Elvis Presley. Founded in 1975 with a collection of 200 books, it has grown into a friendly home for thousands of tomes in every genre.

Fair Trade Books

Fair Trade Books in downtown Red Wing embodies everything a small-town bookstore should: floor-to-ceiling shelves stocked with familiar and unfamiliar titles; cozy reading nooks and antique furnishings; a resident dog; and an array of unique events. The best part? Every first-time visitor gets a free book, hand-selected by the owner.

Books N More

Books N More in Bemidji offers just what it says: books and more. A lot more. In fact, if you’re hungry for the nostalgic video games of your youth, this is the place to come. A newly refinished basement houses instruments and hosts music lessons. It’s far more than just a bookstore; it's a gathering space in the community.

Cherry Street Books

Located in Alexandria, Cherry Street Books is a lovely little bookstore with a very active book club community. Their staff pride themselves on giving one-of-a-kind suggestions and Saturday morning children’s story times include special guests, like Mrs. Claus during Christmas.

Lorena Armstrong-Duarte

Lorena Armstrong-Duarte is an El Salvadorian raised in Minnesota. She graduated from Harvard University in 1998 with a degree in romance languages and literature and has worked as a journalist, poet, playwright, editor, blogger and spoken-word artist. She and her husband live in Minneapolis with their two boys.