While the Twin Cities has a robust and largely thriving independent bookstore community, some are a little more independent than others. Take Boneshaker, for instance. What’s that? You don’t know what a Boneshaker is? Well, you may have heard of it if you are a fan of steampunk fiction. But if that’s not the case, read on…
Boneshaker Books is celebrating its first anniversary this month. This unique model for a bookstore relies on volunteer staff and a volunteer collective. You may have seen one of their bicycle delivery people cruising around the city.
Boneshaker probably has the community partnership thing down more so than just about any other bookstore in town. The store is located in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis. The idea grew out of conversations with a group of people who had worked at Arise! Bookstore. When that closed down, they actually tried to get that space, but when that fell through, they had to look elsewhere. They had help from a group called Seward Redesign, which hooked them up with the owner of the building where they settled. There’s a great article on the Boneshaker website about the nuts and bolts of how the whole thing came together. You too could learn from their headaches and learning curve.
The collective, which started out as seven people and is now six, meets weekly. What’s a collective? Well, they are basically a management team but they don’t have any titles. However, many of them do have obvious skills that kind of give them de facto titles. Maggie knows a lot about fundraising; Tom is a contractor; Amanda is a web developer, and so on. They work on the consensus model, which means they basically hash out things until everyone feels okay with it. They are: Amanda Luker (who graciously took time to talk to me about this endeavor), Maggie Ludlow, Jason Paschall, Tom Schumacher, Ann Hall, Michelle Lee, and Clay Beardshear (who has left the collective but is still around).
There are also committees, which do things like coordinate events and order books. The committees are made up of some collective members and volunteers. The store currently has about 40 volunteers to cover its three shifts a day, with two people on per shift. A lot of the volunteers came on board from the original fundraising efforts, some are from the neighborhood, and they are always taking new applications. The only real requirement is a love of books and a good fit with the organization.
Not to take away from those who manage the daily grind, but there is also a group of benefactors called The Skeleton Crew. Anyone can be a member of the Skeleton Crew. There are currently between 20 and 30 members. All it takes is a $250 donation and a suggested title. Your suggested title will then be kept in stock as long as it stays in print. Not to be out of stock, ever. Any title is open for nomination, but the collective (now it sounds a little like the Borg, doesn’t it?) reserves the right to request another suggestion if it is something deemed highly offensive. Probably no porn then, okay?
Which brings us to the books, the books, the books. The store itself is rather small, just one largish beautiful room and a separate little community room. But the selection is very well thought-out. There is an ordering committee that curates the selection, and they tend to lean towards titles that are progressive, maybe left-wing, maybe even radical, with some international representation and science fiction thrown in. They represent a wide range of viewpoints. As Amanda puts it, they like books that “like to explore different ideas in a new way.”
One very unique thing about Boneshaker is its bicycle delivery service. It grew out of what Amanda calls “dream meetings,” where they talked about what they wanted to do with the store. They decided this was not out of the question, even though it might sound odd at first. This currently covers the city limits of Minneapolis. You can, if you so desire, special order a book off their website and have it delivered to your door, without ever leaving home. Hey, better than Amazon! But of course, then you would miss the great browsing and general coziness of the actual bookstore.
To celebrate their first birthday, there was a gala on Jan 14 at the store, and there is always something going on. On Feb 14, they are holding a V-Day Vegan Gourmet Dinner. This will be hosted at the Seward Café and is a fundraiser for the store. You can make reservations through the website; take a look at the menu to see what you can enjoy for $20 per person. Mmmmm.
In addition to this, there is a Saturday Morning story time for tykes at 11:30am, and a Thursday Night Knitting Group, both of which are free and open to the public. Just show up. There is also a special opportunity each Sunday to volunteer for a great cause: the Women’s Prison Book Project. This organization is a fellow tenant in the building, and Boneshaker volunteers their space each Sunday to package up books for mailing to women prisoners. The only caveat here: this is only open to women volunteers.
Check the website for these and other activities. There is always something going on at Boneshaker – these guys are full of ideas! Things they are thinking about: how to expand their kids’ programs, getting a sound system for their community room (which is free to use, unless you charge admission), and how they will next participate in Franklin Frolic. Also, watch for their new custom sign to be going up soon – see the photo on this article for a sneak peek!
Make an effort to visit this truly unique bookstore; you are sure to find something you love! Then come back and share what you most enjoy – we want to hear from you!
This article is part of a series of articles on the independent bookstore scene in the Twin Cities. If you missed the previous ones, you can search on the tag Independent Bookstores to see articles on The Bookcase of Wayzata, Micawber’s, and others. Subscribe today to get updates on any future articles!