Maybe it’s the seasonally decorated book tree in the window, or the staff’s ability to find hard-to-locate books. Or, perhaps, the comforting scent of paper, ink and undiscovered stories. For all of these reasons and more, book lovers in the White Bear Lake area and beyond come back to Lake Country Booksellers year after year. And this April, they celebrate their 35th year in business on the corner of Fourth Street and Washington Square.
When the original five women—Alta Johnson, Mary Haxby, Judy Colton, Persis Fitzpatrick and Ginny McClanahan—decided to open a bookstore, the five moms attended a booksellers’ school to learn the ropes. Even with that training, “it was pretty old fashioned,” current co-owner Susie Fruncillo says. “Not quite cash in a cigar box, but close. And then, as now, they had great support from the community.”
Over the years, the original owners left the business one by one, replaced by new women with fresh ideas but equally committed to the shop’s original mission: to put great reads in the hands of their customers. And today, there are still family connections to the original owners: Faith Basten, Alta Johnson’s daughter, owns a share along with her sister-in-law Nancy Thysell. Roberta Kiemele, Fruncillo’s sister, rounds out the current owners.
Since the beginning, the store has supported local authors by hosting book signings. Favorites include children’s author David LaRochelle, mystery writer William Kent Krueger and crime fiction author Julie Kramer, among many others. The store, which carries about 5,000 titles, often takes advantage of the large downtown crowds during farmers markets to host author’s events. They also accept self-published work on consignment. “If a local author goes on Facebook, or a story about their work comes out in the White Bear Press, people know they can find the book here,” Fruncillo says.
Along with finding out-of-print books and supporting local authors, the store also specializes in fostering emerging new writers. “Small authors are going by the wayside; they’re out there promoting themselves,” Fruncillo says. “We like to help out by carrying their books.”
And like the shop supports new writers, the community supports them back. Customers got together recently and decided to start donating used books for them to sell. “Our used books are sometimes the first section our customers check,” says employee Lance Abramson.
Historical fiction lover Jill Christianson has shopped there for 20 years. She likes the personalized attention she gets from Abramson and the owners. “Charming stores like this are a dying breed in today’s big-box culture,” she says. “The employees have been there for years. They know their product, and they know where to find it.”
Each of the owners has her own specialty, keeping up with what’s current so they can make recommendations. “Roberta reads mysteries and World War II fiction; Faith listens to a lot of audio books; Nancy loves cookbooks and fiction; I like quirky fiction and memoirs like Jeanette Walls’ The Glass Castle; Lance likes philosophy, poetry and fiction,” says Fruncillo. Each of them loves to tell you which books they enjoyed—and which they didn’t—like trustworthy friends. “If customers like what we recommend, they’ll come back,” Fruncillo believes. (Head to whitebearlakemag.com for a list of book recommendations.)
And how have they made it in this era of e-books? “We run a pretty lean operation,” says Fruncillo. “We do our own ordering, and even take out our own trash and recyclables. We don’t advertise heavily outside of social media or the local paper. And we try to order books we know will sell and limit the number of books we send back to save shipping costs.” And it’s Kiemele who keeps the doors open through her thrifty handling of the finances, Fruncillo points out.
After 35 years, White Bear Lake’s favorite bookshop remains, and is keeping area residents entertained and informed.
Lake Country Booksellers recommends these local and regional books:
- Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
- Missing Mark by Julie Kramer (set in White Bear Lake!)
- Minnesota’s Own: Preserving Our Grand Homes by Larry Millett
- Wild by Cheryl Strayed
- Population 485 by Michael Perry
- On a Farther Shore: The Life and Legacy of Rachel Carson by William Souder
- Lighthouse Road by Peter Gaye
- Until They Bring the Streetcars Back by Stanley Gordon West
- Moo by David LaRochelle
- Flora and Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo
- Salad Days by Pam Powell
Lake Country Booksellers
4766 Washington Square
White Bear Lake