After getting a taste of his creativity and wit at convocation in September, Macalester will soon get to see Garrison Keillor around campus a bit more often. With six years to its name, Common Good Books closed its store on Selby this week in preparation for its move to the corner of Grand and Snelling at the beginning of April.
The new store, to be located on the first floor of Lampert, will open Apr. 9 and operate on a small scale for three weeks before its grand opening on May 1. For now, the final bits and pieces necessary for making the store a home for books are already underway.
“It’ll look like a real bookstore at least by May Day,” said Common Good Books owner and A Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor. “The shelves and tables arrive soon, then the books.”
Along with a new collection of books, members of the Macalester community can expect to see Keillor himself in the neighborhood more often.
“I’ll leave town for a couple weeks and let others do the heavy lifting, then I’m back to do the grinning and waving,” he said.
These visits will start as soon as the store’s opening, for which Keillor has big plans.
“I’m hosting some odd events for the opening,” he said. “A free-for-all reading of great poems about spring – Marlowe, Cummings, Dickinson, Shakespeare, Burns, Joyce – and a performance of Guy Noir and an evening of Two Stools where people come up and tell me a story.”
The store’s big first day will be, at minimum, a glimpse into the opportunities for public events now available to Macalester. With loyal customers from its old location in tow, Common Good will bring guest speakers to campus. This Wednesday Jonah Lehrer, Contributing Editor at Wired, read from his newest book Imagine: How Creativity Works, sponsored on campus for the first reading in the neighborhood hosted by the bookstore. The event saw nearly 400 attendees.
According to Tom Welna, Director of the High Winds Fund, such opportunities for public events are bound to bring new life to the neighborhood. Such collaboration between those affiliated with the school and those living in its outskirts is not only something the school hopes to enhance, but also something the bookstore’s very nature will encourage.
“How appropriate that this store’s name is Common Good,” Welna said. “It’s really about gathering spaces.”
Though some of those who attended the Lehrer event expressed concern about parking restrictions around Lampert, Welna said he has spoken with the owners of Breadsmith, Dunn Brothers and the Cheese Shop and was comforted that the store will be nothing but an asset to local retail.
“I think the retailers are actually pretty happy,” Welna said. “They’re all a little bit nervous about parking pressures and more traffic, but at the same time they recognize it as part of a good mix.”
Since students are only on campus for two-thirds of the year, the businesses that occupy local storefronts must be equally appealing to those who are here year-round. A trade bookstore, Welna said, fits this description and has been missing from the neighborhood for too long.
“We’re not duplicating anything, we’re adding to a list of artisan bread, artisan cheese and independent coffee,” he said. “It’s a nice mix and books fit in with that. People who are interested in those things are interested in books.”
For Keillor, a college campus was the ideal environment for his store. More than anyone else, he believes, college students can appreciate the academic air the store will offer.
“Students bring enthusiasm wherever they go, and wit – all students are humorists, it’s a requirement,” he said. “What the store offers is a congenial place to browse in the marketplace of ideas and sensibilities, or pretend to browse while you look at people who are browsing, and one day maybe you’ll stumble on the book that changes your life.”
Given the number of colleges in the area, Keillor had options. Aside from his keen interest and faith in students, he sought out the corner of Snelling and Grand with his own history in mind. After recording A Prairie Home Companion in multiple cities across the country, Keillor’s choice of Macalester as the best place for his books was a return home.
“A Prairie Home Companion started out at Macalester, of course,” he said.
After speaking on campus a few years back, Keillor and President Rosenberg came to an agreement that the school’s neighborhood was the right place for the new Common Good Books.
“I was struck by how sweet and funny and goofy it was and not the Festival of Large Egos that most commencements are. And they liked my speech about the importance of failure and having your crisis while you’re young. And then, lo and behold, Brian Rosenberg asked if we’d like to rent space in the Lampert Building. And here we are.”
Though quick and on-budget, the renovation process to make the first floor of Lampert ready for use created some displacement.
“We had to move events, retired faculty, the Annual Fund, Investments, we [the High Winds Fund] had to move upstairs. Just clearing the space of its existing use involved nearly a dozen departments,” Welna said.
But in the end, he said, Macalester understands books.
“People have been very accommodating. Nobody likes change or having to move, it takes time and effort, but everyone understood the importance.”
As plans currently stand, Common Good will only take up a portion of the first floor of Lampert. While the North side remains vacant, Welna and members of the High Winds Board are taking their time to plan their next move on the project.
“The college is exploring how we might put our own retail operations there – that would be textbooks, the Highlander, possibly a tech store,” Welna said. “But it’s just being explored. My approach as the manager of off campus retail has been not to worry so much about the short run and not to rush.”
Though it will be a slow process, no one has expressed concerns about eventually filling the space. Welna has already seen multiple proposals for the building, which he says will have high demand because of the bookstore’s value.
“To some degree there’s also destination. And Common Good Books will have that,” he said. “And Macalester will get it as a result because we partner around the events, and that is going to be a metro-wide appeal.”
For now, all eyes are on the bookstore as Welna prepares to hand over the keys this Monday. As the community awaits Keillor’s grand opening, the owner himself is looking forward to the simpler benefits.
“I plan to shop at the bookstore,” Keillor said. “That’s why I started one. For the owner’s discount.”