Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘Charlie Orr’

Ranked by local Twin Citians as 15th on a list of top independent bookstores in Minneapolis, Orr Books was one of my favorite independents. For almost 40 years, the tiny, quiet store resided in the largely urban Uptown section of Lake Street. The parking was terrible, but the staff was knowledgeable and friendly. And I could find off-the-wall, eclectic books for a lazy Saturday of soul searching.

I spent many days there, in the comfy armchair by the counter, hanging out with great literature.

I had given up believing that Orr Books would ever close its doors. They had been threatening for years. Usually it was some new real estate deal happening in the trendy Uptown area that was raising the rent, pushing them out.

Each time I got wind of a closing, I’d stop in and ask the owner, Charlie Orr, if they were going to make it through. And each time he’d tell me, “Well, we don’t know. We’re going to try to stay open as long as we can.”  He just kept on going.

But in July, while I was in Taos at a writing retreat, one of the longest running Twin Cities Independent bookstores closed its doors for the last time. The day after I returned, Liz slipped a paperback book in my hand over morning coffee and said, “I got this for you. It’s the last book I bought from Orr books.”

“What?” I said, gently sliding the cover through my fingers. “They’ve really closed?”

Orr Books has sentimental value to me. When I felt alone, lonely, entrenched in one of my isolated, weekend jags of lining books up on my bed and reading, reading, reading, Orr Books was there. I would browse their shelves, spend hours grazing covers, and talk to the staff about poetry, writing, and authors.

I rarely left the store with less than $100 worth of books. Then I would head over to the Lotus next store, grab some beef lo mein and an order of spring rolls, stack my treasure tomes up on the table, and dive in.


That was then – before I admitted to myself (much less the rest of the world) that I was a writer.  Before traveling to Mabel Dodge Luhan House in Taos for writing retreats. Before I went to see Natalie Goldberg read from Thunder and Lightning at, you guessed it, Orr Books.

It was the year 2001, and I convinced my friend, Gail, to go with me. I sat on a hard bench, back by the bodywork books, craning my neck to get a glimpse of Natalie. The store was packed.

I bought Thunder and Lightning that night. Natalie signed my copy of Writing Down the Bones (sneaking a quick peek inside the cover to see what edition I had) and mentioned that she was giving workshops in St. Paul. When I left the store, I had an extra bounce in my step. I told Gail I was going to sign up. 

Many blue moons and 10 or 11 retreats later, my writing is going strong. But Orr Books is no more.

The closing of many independent bookstores across the country marks the end of an era. I’ve often heard Natalie say she knows a town is thriving if they have at least one independent bookstore.

It begs the question, are people even paying attention to the number of independent bookstores that remain standing in their hometowns? What are we as writers doing to breathe new life back into flagging stores. And are communities willing to spend the extra time and money to support them.

Below is the final letter distributed by Charlie and his staff at the closing, a history of the people and the store. Liz handed the crisp, white paper to me along with the last book she purchased from Orr Books – a copy of Ted Kooser’s Delights & Shadows.

Every time I pick up Ted’s book, I will think of Orr Books. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate its memory.



The History of Orr Books
       -details provided by Charlie Orr

The facts go something like this:

Vera opened Uptown Bookstore (2908 Hennepin) during the Art Fair in August 1968. As she couldn’t afford to leave her job as the textbook buyer at the U of M, Charlie quit his job as a cabdriver, and worked for the first 6 months, then left for California with friends. Interesting fact: before hacking a taxi, Charlie had served in the U.S. Army as a Russian linguist.

Business was good for Vera, and in 1971 she opened a 2nd store, called Uptown Bookstore 2 (Roman numeral), where she sold new hard covers, while continuing to sell paperbacks at the original shop. When times got tough, she decided to close Uptown Bookstore 2. Vera called Charlie in California, in early 1973, to tell him this news.

Meanwhile, Charlie had been hustling used books to no great avail out west. He told Vera he would return, and take over the 2nd store, renaming it Orr Books. It was located at 3027 Hennepin Ave. before Calhoun Square was a twinkle in Ray Harris’ eye. Charlie’s partner in the new bookstore venture was Zarifah, a Sufi dance leader. They sold only used and collectible books, while Vera continued to sell new hard and soft cover books down the street.

In 1976, Vera gave up Uptown Bookstore, and went to work with Zarifah and Charlie, bringing along her faithful book buyers. Vera, in her day, had her own large and devoted following. Zarifah soon left to pursue other interests, and in 1977 Julia Wong was hired to assist Vera and Charlie.

In 1981, Calhoun Square opened, and Orr Books moved to its present location at 3043 Hennepin. During Julia’s 20-year career, Charlie hired various people you may remember: Wendy Knox, Helen Antrobus, Mary DuShane, Lynn Miller, Steve Thomes, and who knows else. Ben Orr came on board after high school. David started on his birthday in 1986. Liza started in 1994, and Peggy and Lorna have been the last part-timers.

The most profitable years were during the sale of textbooks for St. Mary’s Graduate School. The most interesting years were the fist 3-5, when, to survive, Charlie became a comic book dealer, a Beatles dealer, and most successfully, a baseball card dealer, even running auctions after hours to avid collectors.

It is with great regret that Charlie has decided to finalize Orr Books. Times change, as do we all. Charlie (and David and Peggy) now face, like you, the inevitable question: where will we now go to find the good books that nourish and please? It’s been a wonderful 34 years (39, including Uptown Bookstore) and they will always be fondly recalled.

-posted on red Ravine, Friday, September 7th, 2007

Read Full Post »