May 19, 2015

Ask A Bookseller: How do you move a bookstore?


SubText in their current location.

SubText in their current location.

SubText Bookstore in St. Paul, MN, is relatively new to the Twin Cities bookstore scene. It opened in 2012 and step up shop in the space formerly occupied by Common Good Books. Now, SubText is embarking on an exciting new chapter; at the end of the month, they’ll be moving from their current location in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood to a new space downtown, at 6 West Fifth Street. This is great news, because according to Pioneer Press, this means it will become the first indie bookstore in the downtown area since the last one closed in 2007.

We spoke to SubText assistant manager and social media director Matt Keliher about the moving process and what it takes to transfer an entire bookstore into a new space. 

When and where are you moving?

May 24th is our last day of usual operations, and we start packing up books and moving shelves on the 25th and 26th. We hope to be open at the new location by June 1st. Obviously, there are a lot of moving parts to an endeavor of this magnitude, but I’m confident we can make it happen. Our new location will be in downtown St. Paul and we couldn’t be more excited about it. There hasn’t been an independent bookstore in downtown in over a decade, and we are ready to bust in there and start reading.

What’s the plan? Are you moving in stages?

We are moving in stages, and hope to have the entire move completed and ready for operation at the new space by June 1. The plan is to conduct this move with as few catastrophes as possible. Our carpenter needs to have the books off the shelves by May 26th and we need the books back on the shelves at the new space by June 1 so the window to make this thing happen smoothly is small. Luckily, we have an army of volunteers to help us. Without them, not only would I likely rupture a disk in my back, but also the whole process would take a month.

What will you miss about the old space? 

The move, for me, is a little bittersweet. On the one hand, I exude excitement about bringing an indie bookstore back to Downtown St. Paul. On the other hand, I will forever miss the glorious wonder of that underground book-haven. The beauty we were afforded in the historic Blair Arcade building will be incredibly tough to replicate. The Cathedral Hill space is where my girlfriend and I went on one of our first dates, which led me to working at SubText. The comfort and solitude that this space offered will always hold a special place in my heart. Having said that, I am confident in our ability to create a space where people not only can be comfy, relaxed, and welcomed, but also a space where they too can fall in love.

What are you most looking forward to about the new one?

I am most looking forward to collaborating with other individuals and businesses in the downtown community who are working tirelessly to drive the Downtown St. Paul renaissance. There are more residents in downtown then ever before, and private sector investment is returning. The prospect of being a contributing factor to the resurgence of this community is thrilling. Also, we’ll be next door to one of the best record stores in the Twin Cities, Eclipse Records, and I’m excited to see which store most of paycheck goes to: books or records.

When was the last time that you, personally, moved house or moved a business, and did it go well? For me it was three months ago (moving house) and not at all pleasant, though not as bad as it could have been.

The last time I moved was this past summer. In college, I moved myself more times than I care to remember. Moving personal items is easy, especially when you have a wingspan that allows you to move a queen size bed by yourself (I am, what some refer to as, obscenely tall). This will be my first time moving a business and the task offers far more challenges. Mail needs to forwarded, our telephone and computer systems need to be transferred, we need to make sure all you publishin’ folks know where to send the books we order, we need to ensure that the books are moved in a way that doesn’t damage them, and doesn’t cause inventory nightmares. There are impossibly long checklists that need to be reviewed and keeping everyone on the same page will prove valuable.

Moving house is excruciating but most people have done it; moving businesses is on another level entirely. What’s been the biggest unexpected challenge so far?

The biggest challenge thus far has definitely been timing and communication. Making sure that everyone is in agreement about their roles is difficult. We haven’t started the moving process yet, so I am certain that, just like with everything else in life, the greatest challenge is looming in the weeds waiting to pounce when I’m at my weakest and without my morning coffee.

SubText's new location downtown.

SubText’s new location downtown.

Location is so important to a bookstore in determining traffic and customer base. What about the new location are you looking forward to?

Downtown St. Paul is unique. It’s the capital city of Minnesota, but it has always been the smaller sibling to Minneapolis, and I think it’s high time we burst out of that shadow and create our own identity on our own terms. Currently, Downtown St. Paul is in a formative period and it offers a lot of advantages. We are expecting more traffic, and a greater variety of people downtown. It will take a concerted effort from many individuals to ensure that the resurgence of Downtown is for the long haul.

Are you having any fun preparing for the move, or sensing that particular camaraderie that forms during a transition?

I’m having a blast! I’ve been in the book biz for just under two years now and I’ve gotten my hands into almost every aspect of it. Now, I get the opportunity to basically design a store from the bottom up! It has been an incredible experience for me and I think it’s has tremendous potential to be great for the store, and the community. I am so thankful Sue [Zumberge, owner of SubText Books] has given me this opportunity. There is definitely a sense of camaraderie, and I think that will be made even more clear when we actually start to pack things up and get settled in the new spot.

How do you think it’s going to feel on the first day when you open back up for business?

RELIEF! I’m excited to have time to start reading again! My stack of ‘to reads’ has gotten unruly in the last month or so, and I’m ready to tackle it. I think it will be pretty surreal for the first few days in the new community, and I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.


Liam O'Brien is the Sales & Marketing Manager at Melville House, and a former bookseller.