In an economy where brick and mortar big box book behemoths keep failing, the Red Balloon Bookstore in St Paul has sailed along.
Not that there haven't been bumps in the road admits Michele Cromer-Poiré. She and Carol Erdahl founded and opened the store in 1984, and they have remained at the helm ever since, weathering the storms of the book business against all odds.
The Grand Avenue store has become a St Paul institution, with a reputation for being well stocked with both classics and new releases, and as a great place for author readings.
Now Cromer-Poiré and Erdahl are retiring. Cromer-Poiré says they've been thinking about it for a while.
"Our husbands have been retired for, actually, decades," she laughs.
But she says they didn't want to just walk away
"We wanted to keep it going, and we think of it kind of as our legacy," Cromer-Poiré said. "We found these fabulous women and we think the Red Balloon has a fabulous future with them."
On August 1st Holly Weinkauf of St. Paul and Amy Sullivan of Minneapolis will become the Red Balloon's new owners. Cromer-Poiré is delighted by what she sees as the similarities between Weinkauf's and Sullivan's experiences and how she and Erdahl felt as they launched the store.
Cromer-Poiré says she thinks the Red Balloon has survived because she and Erdahl were, as she puts it "intrepid." They forged ahead, no matter the challenges, while keeping a close eye on finances to keep the store viable.
She says she never thought they wouldn't make it.
"No, I don't think that ever crossed our minds," she said. "One of the smartest things that we ever did was that we managed to own our own space, so we are not beholding to a landlord, and because of that we can control our occupancy costs."
But it's taken more than good financial management to make the Red Balloon the success it is. Cromer-Poiré says its a combination of good customer service, by staff with decades of experience, all working towards an important goal.
"We have really been focused on connecting kids with literature, with books, with authors with illustrators, and through that been promoting literacy and fun with reading."
The Red Balloon has been around for 27 years. When asked to predict how things will be in the book industry in 27 more, Cromer-Poiré doesn't miss a beat.
"I see the Red Balloon still surviving, I don't know that childrens books and quality childrens booksstores will go away ever. There's something special about the relationship between a parent and a child when the child is sitting on the lap and the parent is reading to the child."
She recalls how people predicted the introduction of audiobooks would spell the end of the paper books. That didn't happen, and while the Red Balloon does sell ebooks, she says they will never replace a good picturebook."
She won't be there behind the counter but Michele Cromer-Poiré says she'll still be there regularly.
"We wrote into the purchase agreement that Carol and I will get an employee discount," she said with a laugh. "I'm always going to buy my books from the Red Balloon!"
Today's selection for our Celebrating Minnesota Architecture series seems both modern and timeless as it approaches its 50th anniversary.
St. John's Abbey Church
Image courtesy of Chris Hudson
Chris Hudson, who has quite a bit of experience with architecture, brings us this nomination:
As the editor of Architecture Minnesota magazine, I've had the good fortune of seeing a great many Minnesota landmarks up close, and far and away the one that's made the deepest impression on me is Marcel Breuer's Abbey Church at St. John's. Not a surprising choice, I know. This image by photographer Paul Crosby captures both the breathtaking volume of the interior and how that monumentality somehow becomes intimate with the rich texture and patterns of the board-formed concrete. I could sit in this church for days.
St. John's celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Abbey Church's dedication this fall. On the one hand, it's hard to believe anything so thoroughly modern could be a half-century old. On the other, this landmark has the air of timelessness, of something much older.
The St. John's website has this to add:
The Saint John's Abbey and University Church was designed by the Hungarian architect and former member of the Bauhaus, Marcel Breuer (1902-1981). Mr. Breuer joined Walter Gropius at Harvard in 1937 and worked there as an associate professor until 1946. On his own in New York, Breuer saw a practice that had been essentially residential finally expand into institutional buildings with the UNESCO Headquarters commission in Paris in 1952.
In December 1950, Abbot Baldwin Dworschak, OSB, newly elected sixth abbot of Saint John's, made a bold and visionary decision resulting in what one art historian has called "a milestone in the evolution of the architecture of the Catholic Church in this country." He contacted twelve prestigious architects -- among them was Marcel Breuer. Abbot Baldwin asked the architects to submit a comprehensive building design for the second century of Saint John's.
As part of his specifications, Abbot Baldwin required a design for "building a church which will be truly an architectural monument to the service of God." He explained, "The Benedictine tradition at its best challenges us to think boldly and to cast our ideals in forms which will be valid for centuries to come...."
The monks of Saint John's Abbey chose Marcel Breuer. On January 28, 1954, he brought the drawings, models and books for the comprehensive 100-year plan before a meeting of the monastic community. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that building an addition to the monastic quarters would begin in the spring of 1954 and a church would follow. Construction of the church lasted from May 19, 1958, to August 24, 1961.
Tomorrow night our colleagues at Classical MPR will broadcast the Minnesota Orchestra performing the Richard Strauss opera Der Rosenkavalier .
It's a complicated plot, and when it comes to matters operatic we at MPR often turn to Classical MPR Music Director Rex Levang for wisdom. Now he's sharing with a larger audience, explaining everything with a few deft strokes of a marker on a whiteboard.
If you'd like much more detail, you can find it on the Classical MPR blog. Happy listening!