Why Saint Paul Captured Our Hearts — Bookstore Edition

A series about Saint Paul, MN — Part 2 of 4 Both Ben and myself are self-proclaimed book fanatics. We love paging through books in a cozy chair, breathing in the scent of old book spines and covers, sipping a delicious cup of coffee while digesting Shakespeare, and—more often than not—passing away a Sunday afternoon in an old bookshop searching for that special something that will make the hours of searching worth the effort.

You can find books almost anywhere nowadays. Barnes and Noble, Target, and even Amazon offer a wide selection of books that can be sent straight to your door without much hassle or delay. But what you can’t find almost anywhere are great bookstores. They seem to be a dying breed in the age of e-books.

Thankfully, Saint Paul has managed to keep some of these great bookstores alive. If you’re a sucker for physical bookstores with a wide—and charming—array of fiction, non-fiction, comics, and rare gems, start your search here. Saint Paul’s bookstores have a distinct personality that you might not find elsewhere.

Midway Used and Rare Books

Midway Used and Rare Books is located at 1579 University Avenue, Saint Paul 55104. It’s open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. most days, and prices range anywhere from 50 cents to $200 depending on a book’s rarity and condition.  

If you’re looking for a local bookstore that carries specialty books, especially ones that are rare or out-of-print, stop into Midway Used and Rare Books just off University Avenue and Snelling Avenue. On the outside, Midway Books doesn’t look like much, that’s true—but some of the best finds are hidden in the nooks and crannies of a busy street.

Stepping inside Midway Books is like being transported into another universe. There are three floors of books to explore, and each floor has different areas and categories. Are you looking for young adult? Poetry? Art? Science? Food? Medicine? What about old catalogues, history books printed in the 1800s, and rare comic books? Midway Books carries all of these, and it’s incredibly easy to spend hours on a weekend perusing its copious bookshelves for an unexpected and exciting find.

Ben and I have enjoyed many afternoons at Midway Books searching for unique books to add to our growing home library. If I had to calculate the hours we’ve passed there, I’d guess about twenty … and even twenty hours haven’t been enough to scratch the surface of Midway Books’ hidden secrets.

Still, each time we leave, our backpacks are full of incredible discoveries—ones we’re sure we wouldn’t have found anywhere else.

Common Good Books

Common Good Books is located at 38 South Snelling Avenue, Saint Paul 55105. It’s open Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Prices range from $8 to $40 depending on whether the book is a softcover or hardcover.

We can’t talk about great Saint Paul bookstores without mentioning Common Good Books—if not simply because it’s incredibly iconic. Located off of Snelling Avenue and Grand Avenue, and right in between several college campuses, Common Good Books is a local, college-oriented bookstore owned by Garrison Keillor. (For those who don’t know, Garrison Keillor is a local Minnesota author who writes and hosts the show Prairie Home Companion on National Public Radio.)

Common Good Books is a hip young bookstore that focuses on running writing events and selling current—and locally written—books. Friendly college juniors and seniors staff the counter and give excellent book recommendations catered to your specific reading habits (if you ask them).

If you’re a writer, Common Good Books hosts monthly readings, bookclub meetings, and author meet-and-greets, making it a great place to meet likeminded readers and connect with Saint Paul’s artistic community.

But above all this, Common Good Books simply has charm. It gives you that feeling of excitement and anticipation and makes you wonder what magic it’s hiding behind every corner, book cover, and college-kid smile.

Are you an avid book reader? Have you been to either of these great Saint Paul bookstores? If you don’t live in Minnesota, what’s your favorite local bookshop? Leave us a comment below. We'd love to know!

Don’t forget to join us in part three of our 4-part series on Saint Paul! We’ll cover the best of the best tea and coffee shops in Saint Paul, why they’re so great, and where you can find them!