Menomonie Bookstore Keep Indie Bookselling Alive
Rebecca Mennecke, photos by Andrea Paulseth |
In the past decades, independent bookstores around the United States have battled against corporate giants like Amazon, who offer good reads for low prices, and many have lost. However, independent bookstores have seen a revival over the past decade with rising sales, according to the American Booksellers Association. They attribute indie bookstores’ success as “important community centers” to the support and engagement of a strong community surrounding the stores.
Bookends on Main, an independent bookstore in Menomonie, is no different. Whether those who wander in the store are UW-Stout students or professors, loyal locals, tourists visiting Menomonie, high school students, or folks visiting their families, Bookends on Main relies on its community to keep going strong as one of the only two independent bookstores in the Chippewa Valley.
“Bookstores could be open 24 hours a day, (and) there’d always be someone wandering in,” said Susan Thurin, the owner of Bookends on Main. “It’s kind of a safe, comfortable environment.”
It’s no surprise that the success of Bookends on Main can be attributed to the Menomonie community, since every store employee has ties to the local university. Thurin, who is a professor emeritus of English at UW-Stout, runs the store with Martha Wallen, a professor emeritus of French and Spanish, as well as Heather Obenberger, whose parents are UW-Stout professors. The store is right in downtown Menomonie, only about a few minutes (about a quarter mile) away from campus.
“The people who come in love to read, and so you have that in common,” Wallen, a store employee, said. “You don’t feel like you’re out there with people you have nothing in common with. And it’s a comfortable feeling.”
In fact, Wallen said it’s the ideal job for retired professors.
“Every day you get a chance to talk to somebody,” she said. “And a variety of people.”
Bookends on Main offers a variety of titles to fit the needs of that variety, with about 6,000 used and new books in stock. They have fiction, biography, poetry, mystery, science fiction, crafting, field guide, gardening, parenting, religion, history, foreign language, and local books. The store also sells books that one wouldn’t generally find at a big store, like Walmart, Wallen said.
But, if voracious readers can’t find the book they’re looking for, Bookends on Main will order the book and have it shipped directly to the customer’s address or to the store.
“That’s what I found when I bought the bookstore,” Thurin said. “People of all ages, income levels, educational levels, buy books.”
The store holds more than just books. It also sells greeting cards, journals, book earrings, artwork, and musical gizmos like guitars, ukeleles, strings, picks, CDs, and music books. Some of these items Thurin picks up on her travels and brings back to the store to sell. Most recently, she added a kaleidoscope and a ship-in-a-bottle kit for the kid’s section.
According to Thurin, the bookstore has a history as a restaurant in the 1940s, a Hallmark card shop in about the 80s, and later a frame shop, and then a sandwich shop – among other things, she said.
The bookstore itself began with Harriett Christy, who formerly taught children’s literature at UW-Eau Claire and was a librarian at the Eau Claire Public Library. After her husband passed away, she and her children opened the bookstore, which they named “Bookends.”
The bookstore changed hands to Thurin in 2009. Per advice from her lawyer, Thurin altered the name slightly to “Bookends on Main” so as to differentiate bills and information pertaining to the former owner.
“(Christy) figured out the formula to make it work,” Thurin said. “You know, we’ve always had a bookstore in Menomonie, more or less, but they come and go.”
The question is how to make independent bookstores last? Some bookstores have linked coffee shops with bookstores and others put on a whole slew of events. But, that still doesn’t cover it. “People have to value them,” Wallen said.
Those interested in Bookends on Main can check out the store at 214 East Main Street or check them out at www.bookendsonmain.com.