Gary Goodman, owner of St. Croix Antiquarian Booksellers, remembers when downtown Stillwater was a mecca for used-book lovers. With several shops and hundreds of thousands of used volumes, the city drew tourists looking for something special.
“People would come in, and they’d be terribly excited about what they might find,” Goodman said.
Now, after 27 years in business, Goodman is closing up shop. St. Croix Antiquarian Booksellers’ last day in business will be July 31.
“I’m 65,” Goodman said. “At some point you just start thinking … ‘I need an exit strategy.’”
Goodman, who has a master’s degree in philosophy, stumbled into the book business in 1982. He was working as a psychiatric counselor and living in St. Paul when his wife, Mary Pat, told him a used bookstore at Arcade Street and Maryland Avenue in St. Paul was closing and selling books cheaply.
“I had never in my life been in a used bookstore,” he said. After visiting, he thought the books must be worth a lot and decided to buy the store.
An expert who evaluated the books for Goodman told him it was one of the worst batches of books he’d seen. But Goodman didn’t give up.
“I was just stubborn enough to keep doing it,” he said. “It took me three or four years to figure out what was going on.”
By the late ‘80s he quit his job and began selling books full time, even though he had four children at the time (and eventually had six).
In 1990, Goodman opened St. Croix Antiquarian Booksellers on Main Street in Stillwater with partners Jim Cummings and Thomas Loome. The next year they moved the store a few doors down to its current location at 232 Main St. S., Goodman said.
A few years later, Goodman and Loome bought out Cummings and also opened the Stillwater Book Center across the street. The center offered books from dozens of book dealers.
In 1994, Richard Booth, the self-proclaimed “king” of the Welsh “book town” Hay, declared Stillwater the first “book town” in North America. It was a big deal at the time, Goodman said.
Around 1996, Goodman saw the internet beginning to have an impact on his business. That impact became significant around 2000 and has only grown since.
In 2001, Goodman bought out Loome and became sole owner of St. Croix Antiquarian Booksellers.
The most expensive book Goodman remembers selling in his career was a signed copy of Marc Chagall’s “Illustrations for the Bible.” He sold it for $12,000.
“Now that would probably be $40,000 or $50,000,” he said.
He also sold a first-edition set of J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings” books for $1,200, but expects he could get $60,000 for it now.
Among the 30,000 or so books in the store today, there are many treasures.
“I’ve always been pretty selective about what I take,” he said.
One volume is “Poems” by Robert Louis Stevenson, illustrated by various American and British watercolor artists. It was the only copy ever made.
In addition to books, the store also carries prints, maps and hand-colored 19th-century architectural drawings.
Goodman said Stillwater-related drawings and maps sell well. Minnesota author Maud Hart Lovelace’s works are also popular.
Although he’s enjoyed being downtown, Goodman said it’s had both advantages and disadvantages. Property taxes and the slow winter season are among the challenges.
St. Croix Antiquarian Booksellers is now one of only two used bookstores in Stillwater proper that are listed with the local convention and visitors bureau at DiscoverStillwater.com. The other, Black Letter Books, is owned by Thomas Loome’s daughter, Cecilia Loome.
Goodman plans to liquidate most of his inventory before closing, but expects to keep a few thousand books and continue selling online.
The building itself was recently purchased by a local merchant who owns other property in Stillwater, but who didn’t wish to be identified, Goodman said.
The bookstore will throw a going away party at 7 p.m. Saturday, March 4, with a band and refreshments. From 11 a.m. to close on March 4, merchandise will be 50 percent off.
Beginning March 5, the store will have a graduated sale, with 30 percent off merchandise for the remainder of March. By the time the store closes July 31, merchandise will be 70-90 percent off.
“I really appreciate the people of Stillwater and the support they’ve given the book business over the years,” Goodman said.
Contact Jonathan Young at [email protected]