A Step in the Right Direction: Changes to Boneshaker Books

Boneshaker Books thrives due to a group of diverse individuals working 3-4 hours shifts and participating in the ordering, events, or promotion committee. There are always new ideas for future goals that the volunteers hope to make a reality for the bookstore. Between the commitment of the staff and donations from customers, Boneshaker Books has their eyes set on making the changes that comprise the next phase for their store.

“Our ‘Phase Two’ projects include an expansion of our children's section into a whole separate room with expanded inventory and an even nicer, kid-friendly place for readings and activities. We're also improving the A/V system in our meeting room for movies and events. And yes, we're hoping to get some bike racks out front since so many of us bike to the store,“ voiced Tom.

The completion of these projects wouldn’t be possible without the help of their customers. After one donation of $250, donors become a Skeleton Crew member and choose a book that Boneshaker will make sure is always available at their store. This unique premise makes Boneshaker Books all their own as community members can help with Boneshaker’s efforts to share small press publications by giving customers the opportunity to decide what they would like to share with other fellow individuals that stop by Boneshaker Books.


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Opening a bookstore in 2011 may have been a bit ambitious, but the community behind Boneshaker Books believed the feat was necessary, especially after the close of Minneapolis’s former radical bookseller. Since the start, Boneshaker Books has been home to devoted readers who make up the store’s staff and volunteer their time to make Boneshaker Books a success.

The collective members, who all have an equal say in the decision-making of Boneshaker Books, focus on providing quality books to their customers rather than turning out a profit. “We're not in the book selling business to make money,” said Tom Schumacher, a collective member of Boneshaker Books. “In fact, I am still amazed when I find that people are, given the economics of the industry. We've found that there are a lot of other folks who feel similarly and who want to volunteer. On a positive note, it means that everyone who volunteers with us is also passionate about books and also wants to be a part of this community resource.”

The choice to make Boneshaker Books a collective venture adds to the store’s success, building upon the visions of others instead of relying on one individual to make the final decisions for the store’s future. “Boneshaker Books was started by seven people, all of whom had worked at other collectively run progressive bookstores but who shared the belief that we could do it better,” Tom explained. 

Through the unified work of the collective members and volunteers, Boneshaker Books has been able to go beyond their role as a bookstore to offer the community a place to hold meetings or admire the artwork displayed in the meeting/gallery room.

“We've hosted a poster display by a member of the Cuban 5 (political prisoners in the US), shows of all black and white art from local artists, and dioramas. The meeting room gets used for education classes by Twin Cities Exco, by local political groups and book clubs, and even as a rehearsal space for theater companies. It's used weekly by the Women's Prison Book Project for their mailings, too,” Tom told me. Boneshaker’s role in the Women’s Prison Book Project is to provide free books to incarcerated women in an effort to give women the resources to enable change or gain knowledge about topics ranging from politics to health. Their weekly dedication to packaging books for the project illustrates their involvement in spreading the joy of reading outside the confines of the bookstore.

With the constantly evolving events held in Boneshaker Books, the store is able to combine a love of literature with dedication to local and political endeavors. Not only can customers come in to browse through the collection of books, but Boneshaker Books is also a place to find out what is going on in the nearby community.

Just as local community members can come into Boneshaker Books to learn from other customers, the volunteers at the bookstore venture out throughout every season of the year to deliver books on bikes and get to know their customers on a more personal level.  When asked about their free local bike deliveries, Tom revealed, “Actually, it started as a bit of a lark at one of our earliest planning meetings, but it stuck. A lot of us are avid bicyclists, so finding riders is not a challenge, even in winter. It's been great fun.” Between the bike deliveries and events, Boneshaker makes an effort to take part in what Minneapolis has to offer.

Boneshaker Books’ involvement with organizations and businesses around the city adds a unique Minneapolis twist to their events. When asked about his favorite events organized by the bookstore, Tom answered, “One of the coolest events we've done was a Sustained Silent Reading that we held at the Triple Rock Social Club. It was amazing to walk into a packed bar and see that everyone at every table and all along the bar was sitting there reading!”

Fans of Boneshaker Books can always rely on the bookstore to partner with other collectives in the country to help them learn more about what these organizations have to offer to the community. Recently, Boneshaker Books hosted a workshop with the Beehive Collective of Maine. The Beehive Collective creates visual narratives in hopes to give people from different backgrounds the resources to educate themselves about different issues and topics. Tom revealed Boneshaker’s similar mission: “We wanted to have a radical bookstore that was welcoming for customers, that was rooted in the neighborhood and the community that it serves, and one in which fellow readers would be able to discover new ideas and ways of thinking to make the world a better place. I think we've done pretty well on those counts, too.”

With their dedicated volunteers, unconventional business model, love of spreading their appreciation for intriguing books and biking, and unique community space offered to community members at no charge, we couldn’t agree more with Tom about Boneshaker Book’s success. Learn more about Boneshaker Book at their website: boneshakerbooks.com.



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Nicolette Amstutz is a writer for Independent Publisher. She is currently studying English and Communications at the University of Michigan. Please contact her with any comments, questions, or criticisms at namstutz (at) umich.edu.