Keillor brings Common Good Books to Macalester

By Matea Wasend

Macalester will soon be home to a bookstore owned by one of Saint Paul’s most well-known writers: A Prairie Home Companion host Garrison Keillor. Keillor’s Common Good Books will join the Macalester College Bookstore in the Lampert Building, just north of the corner of Grand and Snelling. It is scheduled to open in April following four months and about $1.2 million in renovations to the main-floor space. “It will give people at Macalester a chance to walk into an establishment where you can just walk around and look at things, you don’t really need to buy anything,” Keillor said. “You can kind of lean up against a table and page through the first few pages of a book. It’s a wonderful thing to handle books and to be curious about what is being written about.” Today’s announcement of the bookstore opening cemented plans that had been in the works since the summer, when Keillor began touring Macalester’s campus in search of a suitable space. It also marks the realization of President Brian Rosenberg’s hope to use the Macalester-owned Lampert Building as a retail spot. “I think we have up until now missed an opportunity by not utilizing the storefront space near one of the busiest intersections in the Twin Cities,” Rosenberg wrote in an email. The Lampert Building’s four main-floor occupants—the Annual Fund, the Macalester Summit-Hill Seniors Living at Home Program, the Minnesota Institute for Talented Youth and retired faculty—relocated at the start of the semester in anticipation of the project. A portion of the surplus from last year’s budget will cover much of the reconstruction, which Director of the High Winds Fund Tom Welna characterized as “mostly tearing back the renovations that other people have made.” “It should have a nice ‘historic warehouse loft’ feel,” Welna said. Macalester has been out a trade bookstore since July 2004, when the college terminated the lease of Ruminator Books, a renowned independent bookstore that had long inhabited what is now Patagonia’s space on Grand. A statement from the college from 2004 said that Ruminator books had accumulated several hundred thousands of dollars of debt with the college, and that a “mutually satisfactory agreement” could not be reached. The statement said that the closing of Ruminator Books was a “sad moment for the college, the neighborhood and the literary community.” “I really loved that bookstore,” Keillor said of Ruminator Books, formerly known as the Hungry Mind Bookstore. “You had this feeling when you walked in, that these books on the tables had been chosen by somebody who loves books. Their sensibility might not be just the same as yours but somebody chose these because they loved them.” Keillor hopes his store will take up a similar space in the hearts and minds of his Macalester neighbors. “You walk into a bookstore and you look around at books and here, for sale, all around you, is American enterprise, intellectual enterprise and independence,” Keillor said. “To me, this is an essential in a person’s education.” Welna pointed to less obvious benefits of having an independent bookstore close by—namely that it will bring author talks, book signings and screenings of art and documentary films (of which Keillor is a devoted enthusiast.) Common Good Books has lived on Selby in Cathedral Hill since opening in 2006. The self-professed “nice, local store” has been praised in both professional and user reviews for its varied selection and independent feel. “This is the best small bookstore I’ve ever set foot in,” one Yelp reviewer raved. “A great place to get lost in on a lazy afternoon,” wrote another. “One Pretty Good Bookstore,” Mpls St. Paul Magazine reviewer William Souder summed up in his headline. Souder noted the “evidence of good taste” throughout Keillor’s store. “You can buy a boxed set of Robert Fagles’s translation of The Iliad and the Odyssey, but nothing by Dan Brown—a “point of pride,” according to [store manager Martin] Schmutterer,” he wrote in 2007. At just over 3,000 square feet, the Lampert Building space is roughly double the size of Common Good Books’ current location. But Keillor is keeping the Selby space open for “other business opportunities,” said Kate Gustafson, Managing Director of Keillor’s Prairie Home Productions. “Common Good Books has found a large and loyal clientele, and we hope they’ll like the new store,” Manager Martin Schmutterer said in a press release. “The new space is larger and more convenient, and we’ll partner with Macalester for more literary events.” When Keillor is not in town, he emails the store regularly with suggestions of books to add to the inventory. When he is in town, he drops by—multiple times a week. “I like to shop in my own bookstore,” he said. “I would like to learn to operate the cash register,” he added. “Someday I’ll do that.”