North America’s Booktown

Friday, May 30, 2003
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Yep, more about books. In yesterday’s blog, I posted my photography of Minnesota river towns. One little gem along the way was the discovery of Loome Antiquarian Booksellers in Stillwater, Minnesota, one of the greatest bookshops I have ever been in. Do not miss Loome’s website.

The book sections at Loome include all the basics that one expects, plus historiography, Southern Americana, Western Americana, Modern Library books, Graeco-Roman studies, Hillaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton sections, and a huge theology collection.

If that isn’t enough, the owners have an entirely separate theological bookshop with almost 300,000 volumes in-store. Book sections there include reformation and counter-reformation, Eastern Christian & Byzantine Studies, ecclesiastical history & biography, Catholic and Protestant Americana, and so on. Word is that you can actually get your very own copy of Benedictine Maledictions: Liturgical Cursing in Romanesque France (Cornell Univ.) at the Stillwater store. Just what the masses are waiting for!

One amazing thing I noted about Loome, that I don’t always see elsewhere, is the immaculate condition of its books, and not just the rare, expensive books. The typical hardback is Mint, and priced between $10 – $15, including my purchases of The Confederate Republic: A Revolution Against Politics by George C. Rable, Life of John Taylor by Henry H. Simms, and Robert Conquest’s Reflections on a Ravaged Century. Perfect condition softcovers like Clement Eaton’s The Freedom-of-Thought Struggle in the Old South and Richard Hofstadter’s American Political Tradition can be had for $3 – $5. Other stuff you’ll find here are nice editions of Mises’s Socialism and The Anticapitalistic Mentality, C.S. Lewis’ first book “Dymer” (written under his pseudonym Clive Hamilton), a rare first edition of Emmanuel Kant’s “Metaphysics,” published in German, and collectible books from T.S. Eliot.

For those of you not familiar with Stillwater, Minnesota, it is a “Booktown” in the true sense of the word. Read this great story about what it means to be named a Booktown (from Loome’s website):

“What makes Stillwater a Booktown? It is not enough to answer this by saying that Stillwater offers 500,000 books for sale, because a few larger cities could make the same claim. By way of broad definition, a town is considered for Booktown status when it models the characteristics of the original Booktown in Hay-on-Wye in Wales. Hay-on-Wye is a small (pop. 1300) town with over 20 bookstores and an estimated 2 million books. Its entire economy revolves around books and bookselling. Stillwater, as a small town with 35 booksellers, had developed sufficiently by 1994 to encourage us to petition Richard Booth, King of Hay-on-Wye, Lord Protector of All Booktowns, for official Booktownstatus. In a flurry of faxes, letters, applications, testimonials and gifts to King Richard, we attempted to get him to visit Stillwater, a requirement under the Booktown bylaws. It was not until Tom Loome made a personal pilgrimage to Hay-on-Wye in March of 1994 that the King agreed to consider the matter and follow up with a personal visit. The rest is history. In a ceremony attended by the mayor and other city notables, Stillwater was declared the First Booktown in North America by King Richard Booth on August 26, 1994.”

There are other booksellers in the St. Croix Valley, outside of Stillwater. Here is a reader’s guide to downtown Stillwater and a nice story on why Stillwater is North America’s Booktown. The entire valley is very much worth touring, photographing, or even visiting just to tour all the bookstores. My Twin Cities-based family remarked that if I ever end up a missing person, they’ll just put out an APB for Stillwater, Minnesota, confined to Starbucks or the bookstores.

Here are some more photos of the Loome Antiquarian store:

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