New Minnesota Bookstore Combines Books, Music, Maps, and Inuit Art

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Jill Johnson, owner of Beagle Books

Beagle Books owner Jill Johnson spent most of her adult career in the medical field, so when she found the 1937 former medical clinic, she felt sure it was the right place to open a bookstore.

Johnson told BTW, "The building was so darling, I had always dreamed of opening a bookstore, and this was the perfect spot. I asked the lady who owned it if she would sell."

Park Rapids, Minnesota, has about 3,000 year-round residents and many thousands more visit the resort area for fishing, skiing, and boating. Potato processing is the town's only industry.

Johnson had no previous retail experience but she and her husband, Deane ("He just got sucked into it," says Jill), began renovating the building on February 14, 2001, and opened the 1,500-square-foot space for business on May 1. Johnson credits the bookselling sessions they attended at last fall's UMBA show with providing much of the training they needed to run the new business.

Sheet music, piano scores, and CDs complement the general book store selection.

Like many successful bookstores, the Johnsons' store carries items that reflect their own interests--Deane, a clarinetist, stocks sheet music, piano books, and CDs--"good ones for people around 50," adds Jill. Since the store has a piano in a back room, two teachers give piano lessons after school to about 15 students. Often, the store hosts musical events--either performances or homegrown sing-alongs.

Inuit soapstone sculpture and crafts from arctic Canada are also big interests of Deane's. This year the store is selling Dale brand sweaters from Norway--the same as the ones worn by the U.S. Olympic Team. Writers groups and a book club also find a home at Beagle Books.

Johnson has been heartened by the public's response to the store: "People come in especially when they see the Book Sense sticker on our door. They want to support independents. I always hang up the Book Sense lists in the store--many of the books are good for our audience. We do also sell a lot of hunting and fishing books and [with a nod to Kallie, the beagle behind Beagle Books] plenty of dog books."

-Nomi Schwartz