Ruminator Books permanently closes this week, ending a 30 year run as a St. Paul institution of radical thought and politics. This past Sunday the Pioneer Press did its farewell feature on the store, called "Ruminator founder ready to turn a page in his life".
Given the media and Mac-Groveland interpretation of this story so far (that the failure of Ruminator represents the failure of American culture), it's gratifying to see Ruminator owner Dave Unowsky have a moment of clarity on the true nature of his problems:
Unowsky admits he made three major costly decisions. "The first was pulling the textbooks out of the store and putting them in a satellite store. The second was buying an expensive computer system I didn't have the staff to run. The third was opening a store in the Open Book building (in 2000). That was bad timing. Now, that area of Minneapolis is going to be home to the new Guthrie and lots of housing.''
It's a tale old as commerce itself. Bad business decisions and bad luck stuck him in a hole. But it turns out, even those factors didn't provide the kill shot. That came from the landlord of his property. Which greedy, unfeeling capitalist is that, you ask? None other than Kofi Annan's alma mater:
By 2002, Unowsky was out of cash, and the business went into a downward spiral. He found an anonymous investor who was willing to do whatever it took to get the store back in the black, and from January to June of this year, the store was on track to being profitable again.
But in the end, lawyers for Unowsky's investor couldn't reach agreement with Macalester, and the college withdrew from negotiations in June.
Yes, Macalester College, that bastion of socialism and free speech and free thinking (but not free tuition, annual cost = $24,902). Those heartless bastards pulled the plug, even though Unowsky was able to work out a deal in the private sector to survive. Or maybe they killed him because of that reason?
I've been a little surprised that there hasn't been more wailing and gnashing of teeth over the Ruminator's demise. I think these circumstances explain at least some of the muted reaction. Because if it was an evil, entreprenuer landowner putting the stake in Unowsky's heart, instead of the liberal's precious Macalester, I suspect there'd be sit-ins and love-ins and die-ins staged until the local government was compelled to subsidize the place.
But that doesn't mean some of the aging hippie constituency aren't still up in arms. For instance, noted local author (noted by someone, I've never heard of anyone reading her) and puffed up peahen Carol Bly was quoted last month as saying:
"If America hadn't gone totally junk culture, totally commercial, bookstores like Ruminator wouldn't have any trouble at all," Bly added. "David would have done just fine at the tail end of the 19th century. You can't sell Shakespeare to someone who comes in looking for a discount paperback copy of 'Reagan's OK, You're OK.' "
Whoops - looks like Carol didn't get the memo on this one. It wasn't our totally commercial junk culture. It was, using her words, that totally commercial, junk college on Snelling and Grand. I'd like to think somewhere tonight Unowsky is laughing at Bly and her superficial, blithering analysis. (That is, when he's not crying over the commercial implications of carrying her books like a lead weight around his neck for the past 30 years.)
Final bright spot to this dark story, Unowsky's comments on the Pioneer Press editorial board's talent for economic analysis:
"I laughed when I read a Pioneer Press editorial that said I was done in by market forces," he said. "The first superstore opened in Roseville in 1990, and by 1998 there were 22 in the Twin Cities. But our sales went up each of those years. So the problem wasn't the chain stores."
Are you listening new Pioneer Press publisher Par Ridder? A radical leftist bankrupt bookshop owner is laughing at your newspaper's ability to provide insight into economic matters. Sounds like a mandate for change to me.