Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Minnesota book stores celebrating Independent Book Store Day with passport

interior of a book store
Black Garnet Books in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood is one of the participating bookstores.
Photo by Natalie Wiersma | Courtesy of Damaris Hollingsworth

This Saturday is National Independent Bookstore Day, and small bookstores in the Twin Cities are celebrating in a special way this week.

Rain Taxi, a local literary magazine, is putting on their annual Independent Bookstore Passport. Starting on Wednesday, you can pick up the passport at one of the 28 participating stores.

Each visit earns a stamp, and there are some pretty neat rewards for book lovers. Black Garnet Books in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood is one of the participating bookstores. Owner Dionne Sims joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer ahead of an undoubtedly busy few days.

For more store crawls and events around the state and region — including Moorhead, St. Cloud, Austin, Rochester, Duluth, Grand Rapids and Grand Marais — check out Indie Bound’s list.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: This Saturday is National Independent Bookstore Day, and small bookstores in the Twin Cities are celebrating in a special way this week. Rain Taxi, a local literary magazine, is putting on their annual independent bookstore passport.

Starting tomorrow, you can pick up a passport at one of the 28 participating stores. Each visit earns a stamp, and there are some pretty neat rewards for book lovers. Black Garnet Books in Saint Paul's Midway neighborhood is one of the participating bookstores. Owner Dionne Sims joins us ahead of the busy few days, I'm sure. Dion, welcome.

DIONNE SIMS: Thanks for having me.

CATHY WURZER: Absolutely. Happy Independent Bookstore Day to you-- early.

DIONNE SIMS: Thank you. I know, it's like a whole-- it's like a whole holiday, which is wonderful because we're kind of in a dry period for holidays.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah, exactly. So how are you celebrating at the bookstore?

DIONNE SIMS: So this year, Black Garnet is going to be hosting a pop-up from the Bookish Baker. So excited. They specialize in dairy free baked goods. They're queer small-owned bakery, and so we're going to have them in our space, slinging those baked goods.

And then we're also going to be doing a raffle, so every person who spends $50 gets one entry into our raffle. And that prize will be a signature Black Garnet tote bag with staff picks from each member of our staff, so I'm really excited about that.

I think we have some great taste, so I think that that's something people can get stoked for. And then, of course, we'll also be participating in Rain Taxi's passport, and we'll be giving out stamps from Wednesday through Saturday.

CATHY WURZER: And what does someone get when they get a stamp from Black Garnet?

DIONNE SIMS: Great question. So if you get a stamp from Black Garnet, you get 20% off one order, starting from May 1 until August 31. So you can come in with that passport book, show us that you got a stamp within the next five days, and get 20% off your entire order.

If you get a stamp from 15 stores, hopefully including Black Garnet, you can get an entry for one of the passport prize packs, which is going to include gift cards, signed books, and a lot more other fun stuff from Rain Taxi.

But then if you get 28 stamps from each of the participating bookstores, you're going to be entered into that grand prize, which has a $700 value of 25 gift cards to every single participating store in the Twin Cities.

CATHY WURZER: Wow.

DIONNE SIMS: I mean, I wish I could be part of it.

CATHY WURZER: I'm going to guess, being an independent bookseller, these sorts of events, like the Rain Taxi passport, are pretty important for folks like you.

DIONNE SIMS: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, when you think about just the state of independent bookstores across the country, we're still in the process of trying to get people to divest from maybe those larger corporations who are selling books at a loss and trying to get them into the physical spaces, into that community building that indie bookstores are able to do.

We want people to be a part of that. And so days like Independent Bookstore Day is just one of those times where we remind people, hey, we're here. We're interactive. This is a fantastic opportunity to see your neighbors and to also check out different places in the Twin Cities that maybe you haven't been before and be able to have books and literature at the core of that, which I think is huge.

CATHY WURZER: Now, for folks not familiar with Black Garnet, you are a newer store. I think-- I remember doing the story. You opened in 2022, I believe, right? And are you not the first Black-owned bookstore in the state?

DIONNE SIMS: So-- sorry about that. So we are not the first bookstore in the state. We are actually, I believe, the third or fourth, but when we opened-- when I started the store in 2020, we were the first-- or the only Black-owned bookstore in the state.

So that's kind of what I was trying to-- the gap I was trying to answer when I started the bookstore was just filling in that time in between Black-owned bookstores existing in the state.

CATHY WURZER: How's it been going for you?

DIONNE SIMS: It's been really amazing. It's kind of-- I mean, it's been a whirlwind, so when people ask me that, I almost have to kind of put on a different pair of glasses and just look at things a bit differently because when you're so in it, especially as the business owner, you kind of forget the larger picture.

But the community has really embraced us and has really taken it upon themselves to support us and make sure that Minnesota isn't without a Black-owned bookstore ever again. And we see that in that other Black-owned bookstores have opened since we've opened.

There's Strive in Minneapolis, which is just so cool. And there's Baby Cakes Book Stacks, which has a bookmobile, and they existed before our brick and mortar even opened. So I think people are starting to really embrace the importance of diverse bookstores and are starting to see that the best way to keep us open is to show up.

CATHY WURZER: Right. Of course, we want people to show up and buy books, right? So would you be kind enough-- are there a couple new books you're really excited about right now that you're hoping folks will pick up while they're at Black Garnet?

DIONNE SIMS: Yes. [INAUDIBLE], one of the hardest questions. I am a huge fan of-- oh, my goodness-- the Legendborn and Bloodmarked series by Tracy Deonn. So it's why YA. Hear me out. As a grown adult, it's something that I felt very called to, for some reason, is the fantasy worlds that we build for young people.

And I think that plays into what we're kind of seeing across the board with our stores, that people are really showing up for sci-fi and fantasy these days, whether that be romantasy or hard sci-fi, hard fantasy.

And I really want to encourage people to include young adult fantasy and sci-fi in that because there are some amazing stories that are being told for young adults that I genuinely think really apply to adults as well.

So that's a book that I'm constantly selling. And I feel like, as always, there's the classics. Parable of the Sower, Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler. And I think one of the callings right now for Parable of the Sower is that it takes place in 2024, and it was written in the '90s.

So it's really interesting to read that at this point in time right now and kind of see what was so obvious in the '90s that Octavia Butler was able to write about how that would look for us now in 2024, and what did she maybe miss out on? It's just very interesting and I think really fun to get back into those older texts as well.

CATHY WURZER: Dionne, you are a delight. I thank you for those book recommendations. I'm not-- I have a hard time getting my head wrapped around fantasy and sci-fi, but the way you described it, I'm going to have to maybe just take my blinders off and plunge forward. You know, I like that.

Thanks for the book recommendations. And also, continued all best to you in your endeavor here. I mean, the bookstore sounds fantastic, and I bet you're going to have a great time with the Independent Bookstore Day. So thanks for talking to us.

DIONNE SIMS: Thanks for having me. I really appreciate it.

CATHY WURZER: Dionne Sims is the owner of Black Garnet Books in Saint Paul's Midway neighborhood. Now, events for Independent Bookstore Day will be happening all week in bookstores across the Twin Cities, so check it out.

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