is the exchange of ideas, wisdom and culture via the written and spoken word.
The New Book House
The “new” Book House relocated in the summer of 2014 to one of Dinkytown’s oldest buildings, Dinkydale. Even in our more constrained space, we have sustained our mission and expanded our business.
The Book House offers an old-fashioned book store experience, with it the increasingly rare opportunity to browse a large stock, hang out, read, write, invite friends to meet and talk with fellow book-lovers. In addition to our store stock, our 40,000+ on-line book archive can be searched at our catalog site.
The Book House’s remodel of Historic Dinkydale’s entire second floor carved out a labyrinthine series of book rooms, a room for small gatherings and monthly storytelling, a Rare Book Room, a front room with large windows overlooking 4th Street and a reading nook in the poetry alcove, below a window that overlooks Bob Dylan’s old Dinkytown apartment. This room also features an expanded collection of vinyl.
A Continuing History
The University Area Used Book Store
Part of the Book House in Dinkytown’s legacy is its role as the last remaining patch of a once-rich fabric of used bookstores near the University of Minnesota. Here and at many other other college towns, used book sellers have served as a backbone for the intellectual infrastructure that supports the minds of discerning faculty and students.
It used to be that the service provided by university-area used bookstores were considered essential to academic enterprise: large collections of century-spanning, diverse, and reasonably priced stock – all housed in a brick and mortar incubator for opinions and ideas shared among staff and fellow patrons. Old buildings, cafes, resident landlords, reasonable rents, and streams of students created the perfect setting.
Just as Madison, Berkeley, Ann Arbor and Chicago have fought to protect the endangered university-area used book seller, The Book House in Dinkytown is the ‘soul’ survivor of what was once an integral patchwork of independent bookstores in the University District of the UMN’s East and West Banks.
Founding of the Book House
Our 38 years in Dinkytown have marked many changes in the used book business. The Book House was founded by two bookseller couples, whose main business had been selling academic books and collections to libraries: James and Kristen Cummings, and Dr. Rob and Lynn Wozniak.
In the mid ’70s, library budgets had been slashed, McCosh’s book store was gone, and Dinkytown Antiquarian Books had opened on the second floor of Dinkydale as a collective of five book dealers. Soon Wozniak and Cummings decided to set up shop together, teaming up Wozniak’s basement collection of thousands of academic books and Cumming’s 60,000+ books that hailed from personal collections in Stillwater and Jim’s antiquarian bookshop in Wayzata.
The Book House opened in 1976
By the late 1980s, after Wozniak’s move to Philadelphia and a store expansion, the store housed well over 120,000 books crammed (two deep) into 3,000 square feet.
The ‘Old Book House’ (1976- 2013) was notorious for its ‘depth of stock’: customers exhausted the long late hours working up and down the books in-all-fields that piled in the well-worn stairway and lined the store’s labyrinthine floors.
In 1994, Book House was one of the first large stocks in the country to go online. Hundreds of volumes and customers flowed through the Book House doors every week and innumerable collections, both distinguished and commonplace, found homes. The customer base was so broad that the Book House, it seemed, could sell just about any kind of print.
The Book House Goes Online
Online book sales, however, began to make an increasingly large dent in retail sales. So the Book House adapted to the new balance of business. In 2008, the staff overhauled the store with a massive clean-up, updated displays and streamlined shelving. They installed an in-store mural of old Dinkytown with “The Scholar” at the head of the stair. And they transformed the basement into a community space to host a series of forums and music events.
Changing Times and New Challenges
For 37 years, the Book House was at 429 SE 14th Ave. Together, the building’s triumverate of “books, music, and food”—the Podium, Book House and House of Hanson—accrued over 170 (combined) years in business. When in 2012 the nearby former Marshall-University High School was razed for a student housing project, The Book House had to relocate its 50,000-volume archive from the building’s basement.
Two months later, in January 2013, another student housing project was announced.
The old Campus Inn, or Dinkydale—as it has been known since the ’70s—has a wild and deep history dappled by Dinkytown’s favorite characters, the Philosopher’s Club, and notorious parties. Chiefly, it has been an important incubator of small local businesses over the last 50 years, including Magus, the Blue Eagle Gallery, James Hunt’s jewelry studio and many others. In the ’70s and early ’80s, the Dinkytown Antiquarian Bookstore had quarters on the second floor, later overflowing into the third floor, where Frederick Manfred’s “Dinkytown” and several bibliographies were published.
We are grateful to Shuang Cheng and building owner Daniel Lam for his support in our relocation. In our new location, we continue our nearly 40-year commitment to recycling books and ideas among generations of students, faculty, lifelong learners, and impassioned book people of every kind.
Every used bookstore is built upon the foundations of previous generations of bookstores and book collectors. You have built our stock and sustained us with your patronage through decades of change and challenges. We salute you all!
Preserve Historic Dinkytown
The archives for the Preserve Historic Dinkytown initiative are currently held at the Book House. Come browse old pictures and timelines, and put your dots on our map of “favorite places” in Dinkytown, old and new.
A recent site—Lost Book Stores—also catalogs Twin Cities independents using bookmarks kept in memory of local stores loved and lost. Among these are Dinkytown’s legendary used book stores.
McCosh’s Book Store, featured in Dylan’s Chronicles, is the stuff of myriads of sixties-era Dinkytown stories. Students staged sit-ins when he was removed from the Bridgeman’s building and relocated in the firehouse (Mixed Blood Theater) on the West Bank.
From McCosh the Book House inherited the imperative to carry every kind of language book and the best of translated foreign language literature. Though widely misreported, the Book House did not inherit McCosh’s 100,000 volume stock; it went to a large West Coast internet dealer. McCosh helped to install the rebuild of the Book House in 1989. For years his handwritten cardboard sign hung from twine above the literature alcove he created:
Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate
Dante’s famous inscription at the gates of hell (in Italian of course).
During this era, Heddan’s was on Fourteenth Avenue near The Scholar. It moved to 8th Ave and 4th St. SE in the early ’70s – where it was purchased by Bill Biermaier, and run as Biermaier’s Books until Bill retired and sold the building in 2010, after 41 years of business. Despite a hearty close-out sale (with offerings of “a dollar a book” advertised in the window in every language imaginable), he still left behind a basement full of thousands of old fiction titles inherited from Heddan.
Cummings Books also closed its doors in 2010, leaving its several cats, parrots, and dogs out of a job. Jim Cummings cut his teeth at The Book House where he first worked night shift while going to college. In 1989, he joined Kristen as manager when the Book House was entirely rebuilt.
listen to interviews conducted by MN community radio group Ampers.org on the history of the Book House and the legendary Melvin McCosh.
read more on the Book House and Dinkytown Development from Twin Cities Daily Planet: