Closing Dinkytown bookstore offers glimpse of the past

Longtime UofM bookstore closing
Biermaier's Books, which is located near the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, is closing its doors early this year.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

For years, students and professors at the University of Minnesota haven't had to travel far to find out-of-print titles and great bargains at used bookstores.

But the selection is about to get smaller. Bill Biermaier, who has owned Biermaier's Books for 40 years, has decided it's a good time to retire.

He's selling the building on Southeast Fourth Street and will close the store by the end of February.

While retirement is his main reason for closing, Biermaier said business has been slower in the past few years. The Interstate 35W bridge collapse made it harder for customers to reach his store for a while. Shortly after the collapse, the building next door to Biermaier's caught fire, causing further disruption.

His customers have also changed.

Largest used bookstore in state
Biermaier's Books owner Bill Biermaier says his bookstore, which is closing early this year, has the largest number of used books in the state.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

"A lot of students used to come in, but with the Internet and texting and all the other mechanisms that young people use now, the number of students has declined, and general readers also," Biermaier said. "They buy their books on the Internet and there are less browsers."

Before you keep reading ...

MPR News is made by Members. Gifts from individuals fuel the programs that you and your neighbors rely on. Donate today to power news, analysis, and community conversations for all.

The Twin Cities area is losing several used bookstores. Besides Biermaier's, J. O'Donoghue Books in Anoka is expected to close this month. Cummings Books in Dinkytown has already closed.

When Biermaier's closes, the Book House will be the only used bookstore left in the neighborhood.

Book House owner Kristen Eide-Tollefson said that, like many used bookstores across the country, more than half of her business now comes from online sales. That's changed the nature of the job, she said.

"It's very hard to keep up when really you're not in the business to keep up and compete. That's not really what motivates used book dealers," she said. "It's the love of books and people and the combinations of people and books."

All books half off
All the books at Biermaier's Books are being sold for 50 percent off before the store closes.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Biermaier only sells some of his books through a bigger online book vendor.

"It's not as pleasing as dealing with people face to face," he said.

Biermaier figures his store has 75,000 to 100,000 books, which are organized on shelves that reach the ceiling, in a storage room and down in the basement. He's hoping to sell all of them, and is offering all books at 60 percent off.

Biermaier still rings up sales on a vintage manual cash register that he bought used when he first opened. And you won't find candy, fancy bookmarks or reading glasses for sale among the stacks of old books.

"Sometimes you really have to leaf through, smell it, you know, feel the pages," said Marcy-Holmes Neighborhood Association director Melissa Bean, who likes Biermaier's collection of art books and his changing window displays.

Bookstore closing
Biermaier's Books owner Bill Biermaier says he has nearly 100,000 titles at his Minneapolis, Minn. bookstore.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Bean said Biermaier's has been an important part of the community.

"It's more than just a neighborhood store, it's a draw for the whole city," she said. "He has a good reputation and it's a wonderful shop."

Customer Peter Kizilos-Clift found a few deals on a recent trip to the store. Kizilos-Clift has shopped in used bookstores for years and said Internet book browsing isn't the same.

"You don't have a chance to discover things by accident," he said. "There's something about the uniqueness of a used bookstore in a society where very few things are unique anymore."

Biermaier said he'll miss the daily routine of being a bookstore owner: "being surrounded by books all day long, meeting people who enjoy reading."

"Forty years is a wonderful time span to spend at something you like," he said.