Minneapolis bookstore serves University niche

The cooperative has become a gathering place for its liberal clientele.

by Derrick Biney

What started off as five women sitting on a porch in Minneapolis has blossomed into an institution for liberal-minded people.

The Amazon Bookstore Cooperative on Chicago Avenue South and 48th Street South, is the oldest independent feminist bookstore in North America, operating for more than 36 years. The bookstore is a worker-owned cooperative with strong ties to the University.

During the first two weeks of every semester, members of the cooperative set up shop in the University Technology Enterprise Center at 1313 Fifth St. S.E. as a way to connect with a broader audience that normally wouldn’t make it to the store. It’s also a way to offer students enrolled in specific courses the books they need that aren’t available at traditional bookstores.

Nicole Hoffmann, a full-time Amazon employee who is a non-degree seeking student taking women’s studies and history courses at the University, said she wanted to work at the store because of its vaunted history.

“This is an institution,” said Hoffman, one of four full-time employees. “We are a space for people to use and we try to create a sense of community.”

The bookstore specializes in providing services to the community that cater to a liberal audience by having a strong feminist studies section, supporting independent newspapers and carrying works by local artists.

Several professors from the University’s women’s studies department use the bookstore’s services, said professor Susan Craddock.

Hoffmann said professors from the University’s political science department and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender studies program also have used the cooperative’s services.

The store also provides services to the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs – a consortium of 17 liberal arts colleges, universities and associations, including the University, Carlton College and Macalester College – which focuses on educating people about social justice.

Beth Zemsky, adjunct faculty member of the women’s studies department, said she uses the bookstore because it has been difficult to get good resource material in the area of GLBT studies from other places.

“They have always worked hard to have available the best and most up-to-date resources for and about the GLBT community,” she said.

In the past, bookstores such as Barnes & Noble and Borders did not carry many books in the field of GLBT studies, and even now the stores have small sections, Zemsky said. She has worked in the field for more than 20 years. Even five years ago, the small sections in the chain stores did not exist.

The bookstore, for its part, boasts local feminist magazines and journals, materials from publishers of lesbian-focused material and special ordering for many hard-to-find titles, Hoffman said.

Zemsky teaches a GLBT service learning course that focuses on the social movements of the communities in the United States.

For her students, buying books from the store is “a way to expose them to another community organization” in addition to the internships they are required to have, Zemsky said.

“Amazon is a community institution and gathering place,” she said.

Craddock said she supports the store because it is independent and provides a service to students and faculty members within her department. She said her choice is both personal and philosophical.

“Supply chains like Barnes & Noble are not unique and they are eating up independent stores,” she said. “It’s hard to be independent in this era.”