ONCE UPON A TIME, Faribault was home to bookstores, the first inside the mall, the second downtown on Central Avenue. Both closed years ago. But soon we’ll have a bookshop back in town, located in the former Dandelet Jewelry store, right next to the corner building that once housed Central Avenue Books.
This new as yet unnamed bookstore, though, will be decidedly different. The bookshop, a project of Rice County Area United Way, aims to do more than simply provide the community with a place to purchase gently-used books. It will also become a welcoming community gathering space, according to United Way Executive Director Elizabeth Child. She envisions a colorful children’s area in the back of the store where kids can mingle and read. She envisions adults dropping in, coffee in hand, to browse bookshelves and engage in conversation. She envisions local art displayed and perhaps events featuring artists and writers.
A sense of community involvement defines the vision for this used bookshop. Child and her board of directors are open to ideas and possibilities and are actively seeking community input. They want this gathering place to reflect Faribault’s multi-cultural population; to add value to the downtown; to promote literacy via access to books; to inspire people to read; and to increase the United Way’s visibility in Faribault. The United Way currently has an office in Northfield following the merging of the Faribault and Northfield United Ways into a county-wide entity in 2019.
The nonprofit, funded primarily by workplace partner and individual donations, aims “to mobilize caring resources to improve lives,” Child said. That’s further defined on the website: Our focus is on education, health and financial stability—the building blocks for a good quality of life.
A bookstore fits within that mission with a focus on literacy, bringing people together and providing affordable books. The United Way is already collecting books, with an emphasis on “gently-used” in all genres. No textbooks, encyclopedias, business or outdated books needed.
Planning and work continue on the bookstore with an anticipated spring opening at 227 Central Avenue North, hours to be determined. The 1882 building, which is in Faribault’s Historic Commercial District and on the National Register of Historic Places, is one of 13 purchased by a local investment group in an effort to revitalize downtown. Originally, the structure housed Dandelet Dry Goods. It became a jewelry store and watch repair business in 1925 with the Dandelet family modernizing the original Italianate facade in the Art Deco style during the 1930s. Child noted the vacant building retains Art Deco elements inside, including a chandelier. Built-in shelves, which once displayed jewelry, remain. Those will be repurposed for books as the United Way readies the space with mostly cosmetic changes like painting, adding display tables and more. A first floor bathroom will be installed. Any exterior changes/improvements will be made by the building’s owners.
Volunteers will run the bookshop with United Way board member Dave Campbell overseeing the operation. There’s already a sense of excitement within the community about the bookstore, Child said. She expects that interest to grow once the shop opens.
Child’s efforts to open a United Way bookstore began seven months ago in a most unexpected way—in a conversation during a three-hour ride from North Carolina to the Atlanta airport. Her friend Florence, whom she first connected with via an online pandemic-inspired poetry group, mentioned how much she enjoyed volunteering in her small town nonprofit bookstore. That proved an enlightening moment for Child, who took the nonprofit bookstore idea and ran with it…to her board. And now, in a few months, Faribault will have a new, welcoming place to gather, a place to buy gently-used books, to engage in conversation, to connect as community.
FYI: If you have gently-used books to donate, contact Dave Campbell at 507-210-4066 or email him at Davec1953 at gmail.com
© Copyright 2023 Audrey Kletscher Helbling