Uncle Hugo’s Looks Into the Future

Uncle Hugo’s and Uncle Edgar’s as they looked before the fire.

The GoFundMe to help Uncle Hugo’s Bookstore owner Don Blyly has raised $148,684 to date.

Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore and Uncle Edgar’s Mystery Bookstore were burned by vandals on May 30 while protests were happening elsewhere in Minneapolis.

Sam Blyly-Strauss posted a long update on June 22. It includes this request from Don —

GOFUNDME: If you will feel ripped off if I decide not to open a new brick-and-mortar store, or to reopen a science fiction store but not a mystery store, please do not contribute to the GoFundMe at this time. Details here.

And at the Uncle Hugo’s website, Don Blyly is mulling over “Current Events and Future Scenarios” in some detail:

…I’ve had lots of people offer to donate their used books to help stock the used bookshelves for the Uncles. I’ve told them that it could take 6-12 months for me to figure out if I will be opening a new brick-and-mortar store, and I don’t have anyplace to store the thousands of books people want to contribute. If I decide that I’m likely to re-open a brick-and-mortar store, then I will rent storage and start accepting books. But I don’t want to rent storage, collect thousands of donated books, and then have no way to sell them.

There are various ways for The Uncles to move forward from here. The mail-order-only from my home is quick and easy and will bring in some cash to support me, but is not capable of doing a lot of things that a brick-and-mortar store can provide. (I haven’t had a chance to even consider how taxes or various called-for-but-not-yet-real business rescue plans might influence my decisions.) The options that I am looking at include:

1) Rebuild in the same location, if I can come up with enough money. People are used to finding us there. (When we moved there, we started telling people 6 months in advance that we were going to be moving and 3 months in advance we started telling people where and when we were going to be moving, but we were having people decades later “discovering” that we were still in business because when they saw the empty storefront at the old location they just assumed we had gone out of business.) The space was adequate. Mass transit connections (important to some of the staff and many of our customers) are pretty good and will get better over the next couple of years, but the parking situation is not very good. The property tax would probably double from $20,000 a year to $40,000 a year, and it was hard to afford $20,000. And I’d be stuck with this expensive building when I decide to retire. It would probably take about a year for this option.

2) Buy a new lot somewhere else and build a new building there. This would probably be the worst option. Nobody would know where to find The Uncles, it would be the most expensive option, it would involve the high property tax for the new building, and would be difficult for me to retire someday unless I could sell the building. It would take over a year for this option.

3) Find an older existing building, buy it, and turn it into a bookstore. This would probably cost around half as much as either of the first two options with lower property taxes than the first two options. I have no idea what the current real estate market is like, what might be available, and where I would have to move to.

4) Find an existing building and rent it. Again, I have no idea of what the existing real estate market is like or what is available. I know that around 100 small businesses are burnt out and looking for new locations to move to, and there is a sudden severe shortage of commercial buildings that have not been burnt out. On the other hand, there are a lot of businesses that are not going to survive COVID-19, so 6-12 months from now there might be more options.

5) Just stick with the mail order business and don’t open a new brick-and-mortar location. I’m 69 years old, with increasing arthritis in my hands and wrists, and my eye sight keeps slowly declining. A bunch of people, including my kids and some of my staff, are pushing this option. It would make it very easy to retire when my body forces me to. But I’ve enjoyed meeting with a lot of customers over the decades, turning people on to new authors they might otherwise never have discovered, hosting signing events, and providing tens of thousands of inexpensive used books for people who can’t afford to maintain their book addiction at new prices. I just feel happier when surrounded by thousands of books, as do many of our customers. And Ecko the store dog REALLY misses going to work and greeting customers.

[Thanks to Kathryn Sullivan for the story.]

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5 thoughts on “Uncle Hugo’s Looks Into the Future

  1. I started going to Uncle Hugo’s in my early 20’s. I’m retired now. Much as I’ll miss the Uncles, and wish Don could have eventually sold them to someone younger, retirement makes sense. Whatever he decides to do I wish him well.

  2. Thanks, Mike, for making sure this wasn’t lost in comments a couple of days ago.

  3. There are a lot of hard choices to be made and no easy solution. I think it’s very wise to be firm about tempering expectations, since some people seem to think that throwing a one time donation at a problem will fix it. Rent and taxes here in the Twin Cities is pretty bad for retail right now, as I’m sure it’s the case with the rest of country too. Mail order only is a very attractive option.

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