EXCELSIOR — Ann Woodbeck and her husband Dale's goal after purchasing Excelsior Bay Books is "just not to wreck it," she told Lakeshore Weekly News.
The Woodbecks bought the 36 Water St. store on Jan. 2 from Ann Nye and Ellie Temple, who opened and then ran the bookstore together for nearly 24 years. Ann Woodbeck worked at the bookstore for 12 years prior to becoming the new owner.
“When we found out the bookstore was for sale, we were really enthusiastic about the idea and both of us love Excelsior,” Ann Woodbeck told the paper. “We think that people who read books are very, very interesting. We love that a bookstore is kind of a gathering place in a town, and so we just decided we wanted to be a part of that.”
Nye and Temple decided to sell the bookstore when Nye moved to New Mexico, Ann Woodbeck said. Temple will stay on at Excelsior Bay Books as a part-time employee, helping the Woodbecks transition to owning the store.
Meanwhile, Nell, the Woodbeck's 2-year-old poodle, is transitioning to becoming "a bookstore dog," Dale Woodbeck joked.
Besides welcoming a four-legged employee and doing some small renovations inside the store, such as installing a new counter, adding new furniture, doing some painting and rearranging some books, customers can expect much of the same from Excelsior Bay Books. The heart of the store — the books — will stay the same, with the inventory customers have grown to expect not expected to change much.
The Woodbecks decided to purchase the store because of their combined love for books and Ann Woodbeck’s experience in the store and Dale Woodbeck’s experience in local business as the general manager of Lakewinds Food Co-op.
Independent bookstores have had a hard go of it in recent years, and Excelsior Bay Books is among one of the only independent, local bookstores in the area.
The United States saw a rapid decline in local book stores in the 2000s, with nearly 500 independent book stores closing between 2002 and 2011, the New York Times reported. Things are looking up for the industry, though. From 2009 to 2018, there was a 40% increase in bookstores' sales numbers, according to National Public Radio.
Ann Woodbeck believes Excelsior Bay Books has survived as an independent bookstore because of its great service, among other reasons.
“When we take the staff collectively, we all have kind of a specialty that we read in, we share ideas with each other,” she noted. “In hand-selling a book, it’s a matter of knowing the book well enough to give a short, insightful description of what the book is.”
Ann Woodbeck has heard many times from customers that the previous owners always had great book recommendations.
Dale Woodbeck believes it helps that the store is located on Lake Street in Excelsior, where people tend to wander down the street to shop and browse.
Another thing that has made the store successful over the years is featuring authors — both local and national, the Woodbecks said.
Mikaela Casey, a local author who has written “Lenny the Loon: An Adventure on Lake Minnetonka” and “Lenny the Loon: A Tour of the Twin Cities,” loves Excelsior Bay Books and Nye and Temple for their support of her writing.
“They are the first store that I attempted to get Lenny the Loon into,” Casey told the paper. “I remember walking in all nervous and showing Ellie the book and having her tell me that they would love to carry it."
Casey says the bookstore has since been the "backbone" of the "Lenny the Loon: An Adventure on Lake Minnetonka" sales, noting the numbers from Excelsior Bay Books have "far exceeded" sales at other retailers.
"More than that, they have become friends. They have asked me to come in and do several signings, included me in a trolley reading in downtown Excelsior, and provided me with free press whenever possible," Casey said.
The store also hosts a monthly Literature Lovers’ Night Out that features four authors all with brand new books. The events are held at Trinity Episcopal Church, 322 Second St., in Excelsior.
The events are very popular with hundreds of attendees every month, Ann Woodbeck said, noting it’s a great opportunity to get your hands on a newly released book.