Ode to Minneapolis Bookstores Burned Down in the Riots

A Canadian writer mourns the literary losses piling up in the Twin Cities

In Rod Serling’s classic “Twilight Zone” episode “Walking Distance,” a frazzled ad executive played by Gig Young finds himself transported back in time to the childhood of his memories.

Overwhelmed by the re-experience of familiar people and places he loved that are now long gone, he tries to warn his eleven-year old self to cherish these precious days for as long as he can.

He ends up accidentally breaking his younger self’s leg.

The Twilight Zone (Classic): Walking Distance - Try Looking Ahead

After a heart-to-heart talk with his father, who reminds him “there’s just one summer per customer,” he returns home, still hobbled by the painful limp he inadvertently inflicted on himself all those years ago.

Serling’s story and its message have been echoing in my mind lately. The city of Minneapolis, the city I once lived in and loved, is no more. Yes, the city itself still exists, but everything and nearly everyone I loved there is now gone, and all I have now are memories, both good and bad.

And yet, like Gig Young, I must go back in time…even if it hurts me.

Starting Over in the Twin Cities

I moved to Minneapolis in the summer of 2003, right before I started graduate school at the University of Minnesota. It is difficult to fully convey the feeling of invigoration I felt upon my arrival. It wasn’t just the size of the city, more than twice that of my Canadian hometown. It offered so much more to experience.

Although the city was less culturally diverse in its ethnic demographics, a fact that would eventually leave me feeling alienated, it still offered so much more in terms of cultural opportunities.

It was the “creative class” city I had always wanted to live in, with cultural opportunities that had been out of my reach in my blue-collar Canadian hometown.

I’m finally home, I told myself.

How we treat our books tells us as much about how civilized we truly are as much as how we treat other people and other fellow living things.

There was the legendary Discount Video, catering to fans of classic and cult cinema such as myself. DVD had just started to become the dominant form of home entertainment, but I could only afford one or two DVDs a month.

But thanks to this particular Twin Cities institution, I was able to finally watch such classic movies as “Onibaba,” “Black Orpheus,” Rene Clair’s “A Nous La Liberte” and King Vidor’s “The Crowd,” all while staying within my budget. Also helping to fulfill my movie needs was the Oak Street Cinema, the revival house located close to campus.

It was the bookstores that really made Minneapolis special.

You must understand that I am not just a bibliophile, but what a friend and fellow collector has called a bibliopath, especially when it comes to science fiction.

I always check out the local bookstores while on vacation, and will literally go to the other side of the world to find a much-wanted book: I had to visit New Zealand to find a copy of Poul Anderson’s “Tau Zero” and Amsterdam to secure a copy of James Blish’s “The Seedling Stars.”

Once I moved to Minneapolis, such furtive quests no longer seemed necessary.

An Embarrassment of Literary Riches

Not only was there a bookstore on every block, including two in the Dinkytown neighbourhood where I lived, but the city had not one but two bookstores catering to science fiction fans: Uncle Hugo’s and Dreamhaven.

Both were located not too far apart from each other, Dreamhaven right in the middle of East Lake Street and Uncle Hugo’s at the corner of Chicago and Lake. Although both stores were great, Uncle Hugo’s became my favorite simply because it had a huge selection of both new and used books.

Finally, I was able to purchase and read all sorts of classics I had long known from reference books and histories of the genre, but that had forever eluded me

Despite the fact that there was a considerable distance between my residence and the store, more often or not, I walked there instead of taking the bus. One day, I found that construction had blocked the entrance to Lake Street, and I had to cross three or four blocks westward then come all the way back around to finally make it to the store.

When I told the store clerk they couldn’t make access more difficult he snarked,“They could make it harder to get here. I don’t know why people keep saying that.” I wanted to say something equally condescending in reply, but I couldn’t. It wasn’t just politeness, but the fact that I had walked over three and a half miles in the sweltering sun just to patronize his store had left me too tired to argue like some frustrated customer dealing with Randal Graves in “Clerks.”

Clerks | ‘Job Title & Behavior’ (HD) - Jeff Anderson, Brian O'Halloran | MIRAMAX

There were worse problems than torn-up sidewalks or cranky clerks that would limit not only my visits to the store, but my enjoyment of the city overall. About a year after I moved to Minneapolis, it was suddenly overrun with panhandlers.

It no longer became worth it to walk the entire distance when I found myself bereft of change after reaching my destination. Worse yet was the rise in violent crime, which personally impacted me one evening when I was mugged, beaten, and nearly strangled to death in my own backyard.

Needless to say, the event left me traumatized and I found it difficult to go out on my own for a considerable time afterwards.

And yet, eventually…I returned to Uncle Hugo’s. Repeatedly.

I especially made sure to take my Dad there every time my parents visited. After all, he not only made me a science fiction fan by handing-down his old Isaac Asimov books (fact and fiction alike), but some of my fondest summer vacation memories are of the times we visited used bookstores during the annual family road trips.

While I myself, the stalwart science fiction fan, remained at the main store, he would visit the adjacent Uncle Edgar’s (named after Edgar Allan Poe, just Uncle Hugo’s itself was named after Hugo Gernsback, the editor and publisher who gave science fiction its name). Uncle Edgar’s specialized in crime and mysteries.

And although I eventually returned to Canada, I would still return periodically to Minneapolis, and always made sure that Uncle Hugo’s was on my checklist of things to do.

I last visited the store four years ago, where my purchases consisted of Jerome Angel’s “The Making of 2001,” Charles Sheffield’s “Dancing With Myself” and Richard Matheson’s “I Am Legend” (a 1973 paperback reissue to tie in with the release of “The Omega Man”). I don’t know why I didn’t pick up the copy of the “Forbidden Planet” novelization already there like I should have, but I made a mental note. “Next time…”

But of course, there wouldn’t be a next time.

Like everyone else, I reacted with revulsion at the murder of George Floyd, but it particularly sickened me, because I had almost been murdered myself in a similar fashion. My anger mounted as I saw the footage of the destruction of Lake Street by privileged white rioters.

For those unfamiliar with Minneapolis, “Lyn-Lake” has the same shorthand meaning as 8 Mile in Detroit, signifying a dividing line between the wealthy majority-white community and the less well-off minority neighborhoods.

Lyndale street is the main corridor of Uptown, the neighborhood for rich white suburbanites, and Minneapolis being Minneapolis, most of them are lockstep DFL voters despite having never been near a farm or factory in their lives.

Lake Street, on the other hand, consisted mostly of minority-owned businesses, many of the owners being immigrants and refugees. Those businesses have not just been destroyed: the lives of their owners and employees, who had been given the false promise of a better life free from strife and violence, are shattered forever.

Then, my rage peaked when I learned that the rioters deliberately burned Uncle Hugo’s and Uncle Edgar’s to the ground. Hundreds of rare and valuable books, worth thousands of dollars and of incalculable historical and cultural worth, were gone forever.

Witnessing the city’s senseless destruction, with the most vulnerable and marginalized citizens suffering the brunt of the mob’s action, was bad enough. This was particularly heartbreaking. Worse yet were the attempts at justifying the destruction of the bookstore and other private businesses.

“Hey, they’re just property, not people. Look at the big picture.”

No, you listen. You’re only shrugging it off because your favorite leftist bookstores were left untouched. Had it been your property or a business you patronized, you’d be emotionally shattered and searching your conscience.

Books are not just artifacts of a culture. As Ray Bradbury articulated so well in “Fahrenheit 451.” Books are culture. They define who we are as individuals and as a civilization.

Beloved sci-fi bookstore, in business since the '70s, reopens

How we treat our books tells us as much about how civilized we truly are as much as how we treat other people and other fellow living things.

With Uncle Hugo’s gone, is there any reason to ever visit again? No, I’m afraid not. I have just a few friends still left in the city. Most of them have moved away or even more sadly, died, including the woman I considered my most important mentor and closest friend.

Discount Video is long gone, having closed in 2006. Oak Street Cinema felt the wrecking ball’s wrath. For that matter, much of the Dinkytown shops and hangouts that made it so distinctive and exciting have also been torn down to make room for ugly student housing edifices that look appropriately like something out of the Communist Bloc circa 1968.

I don’t think I could bear now to retrace my old walking paths, visit the old neighborhoods where friendly people of all races waved hi to you just because a little kindness went a long way. The Minneapolis I loved has been destroyed by a brainless mob, all in the name of “social justice.”

No, there is no reason for me to ever go back. Not in person at least.

There’s just one summer per customer.

A.A. Kidd is a freelance writer and sessional university instructor in Canada, where he proudly volunteers for the Windsor International Film Festival.

Photo by Fred Kearney on Unsplash

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Back to top button