Wild Rumpus named best bookstore of the year

Kids play with cats inside Wild Rumpus.
Gabe Culp, left, plays on a rocking chair as Ines, center, and Audrey Mojica pet one of Wild Rumpus' cats inside the bookstore on Tuesday. After 25 years in business, Publisher's Weekly named it the 2017 Bookstore of the Year.
Evan Frost | MPR News

At the Wild Rumpus bookstore in Minneapolis, Neil deGrasse Tyson is strutting across the floor.

A crowd gathers, but this striking figure is not the world-famous astrophysicist — it's a chicken.

In addition to over 34,000 books, the children's bookstore boasts a menagerie that includes Tyson the chicken, one ferret, two doves, two chinchillas, a cockatiel and a tarantula named Thomas Jefferson. (Jefferson's in a cage, as are several of the other furry and feathered inhabitants.)

This week, the shop was honored for its long history of serving up children's books with a side of animal chaos. Publishers Weekly named it the 2017 Bookstore of the Year, making Wild Rumpus the first children's bookstore to receive the honor.

A model canoe hangs from the ceiling.
A model canoe hangs from the ceiling of Wild Rumpus bookstore in Minneapolis on Tuesday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

For co-founder Collette Morgan, finding out that she'd won was a too-excited-to-even-speak moment. Her tight-knit staff gathered around her when she got the call.

As far as "sure things" go, bookstores don't generally make the cut. When Morgan first opened Wild Rumpus with Tom Braun, they thought they'd be lucky to last three years. This September, the store will celebrate its 25th anniversary.

It has weathered the rise of online shopping, the recession and many young people's fervent attachment to electronic devices. Every afternoon after school lets out, the store still fills up with young readers browsing the shelves, which run from picture books through young adult novels.

Bookseller Jean Ernest, who has worked there for 20 years, says she has watched the customers grow up right in front of her, transforming from kids into parents who bring their own children into the shop.

Cats eat lunch.
Some of Wild Rumpus' resident cats eat lunch while a book is gift wrapped inside the store.
Evan Frost | MPR News

The store takes its lively name from the beloved Maurice Sendak book, "Where the Wild Things Are." Max, the book's young pajamaed hero shouts: "Let the wild rumpus start!"

The phrase is embedded in the floor of the store, in Latin. Tyson picks his way right over it.

Amid all the store's success, and its fast approaching 25th anniversary, Morgan has a message to her younger self, opening the store on its very first day.

"You did the right thing. You did the right thing," Morgan said. "At the time it was: 'What the hell am I doing? Why am I doing this when everybody else is closing?'"

"But it's just been the love of my life."