This mall bought a bookstore to keep it open

The Village Bookstore in Grand Rapids, Minn.
The Village Bookstore in Grand Rapids, Minn.
Courtesy of The Village Bookstore

Mike McGinnis has run The Village Bookstore in Grand Rapids, Minn., for 36 years. When he bought the store in 1980, it was just a small affair on the side of Highway 2. Four years later, he moved it into the newly opened Central Square Mall, becoming one of the first tenants.

The 3,000-square-foot bookshop, just inside the mall's main doors, has served up reading material for generations of locals and yearly waves of tourists. But this year, after three decades in the industry, McGinnis decided to retire.

He planned to downsize and leave the mall behind. He submitted his 60-day notice to mall management and began packing things up.

"At the very last minute, the mall manager came and said: 'Wait, wait, wait! Stop!'" McGinnis remembers.

Jean Healy, the manager of Central Square, couldn't stand to see the store leave. After McGinnis submitted his notice, she began planning. The mall had already lost several tenants, leaving vacant storefronts. She didn't want to see another one, and she knew the bookstore was one of the most beloved shops in the mall.

"We said, 'We don't want to lose the bookstore. Let's buy it,'" Healy said.

Central Square Mall became the official owner of The Village Bookstore on July 1. The mall already has plans to expand the store, and to add an additional 1,900 square feet.

The new space will include an expanded children's book section — the most popular section in the store — and more gift merchandise. There will be puzzles to go with the children's books, kitchenware to go with the cookbooks — more items that will help make the store financially viable. The name will be updated to The Village Bookstore & Gifts.

McGinnis said that, while the store has a loyal following, the book business was hit hard by the economic downturn and the rise of online shopping.

"It slowed during the recession, because it hit the tourist industry and the home-building industry, and now there's the mining industry slump," he said. July and August were once as busy as Christmas, but that hasn't been the case for years.

McGinnis laughed when he thought of his wife's many book clubs (she's in four of them) and how club members will say, "Oh, we can get next month's book cheap on Amazon."

"She goes, 'Wait a minute! I'm right here, in the room! I can hear you!'" McGinnis said. Because of online shopping, he has watched his customer base age without new customers coming in.

"It's starting to come back a little now, but I'm 73," he said. "It's time for me to go."

It's the end of a family endeavor for McGinnis: In his time as owner, all five of his daughters have helped run the store. He's had at least one daughter working there from 1980 until last May.

Since the sale to the mall, he's heard from customers who are relieved the store is staying where it is. Many neighboring towns have lost their bookstores, or never had one to begin with.

"We've found we could fill a niche for the community, as well as the tourists. They'd come in time after time and say, 'Boy, we're surprised to see a bookstore like this in a small town,'" McGinnis said.

The mall is happy to keep it that way.

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