Right Here in Northfield, River City -- A New Trade Bookstore

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River City Books of Northfield, Minnesota, open as of March 2002, is a direct descendent of two highly regarded educational institutions in Northfield: Carleton College and St. Olaf College. River City Books is technically a branch of the Carleton College Bookstore, and a close friend of the St. Olaf College Bookstore.

The common denominator of all three is longtime Northfield resident and St. Olaf alumnus, Daniel Bergeson. Employed by Carleton College as the director of the bookstore, he was offered the opportunity to simultaneously direct a similar bookstore at St. Olaf. Bergeson, who told BTW that directors are the academic equivalent of managers, was concerned by the lack of any independent bookstore in town after a 20-year-old Division Street store in the city’s five-block historic preservation district was liquidated by its third owner in the mid-1990s.

Town residents were eager to have a bookstore, and Bergeson was unable to draw them into the two college stores. Although geographically close, the campuses seemed to exist far from the commercial life of the residents. In a recent interview, Bergeson called it "a mystique, an invisible barrier that intimidated the residents." He strongly believed that it was to everyone’s benefit that the community of 15,000 remain a viable one. "It’s a shame," Bergeson told his employers, the Carleton Board of Trustees, "because these people need a bookstore -- and the preservation of the community is vital to the health of the college."

The trustees were convinced by Bergeson to fund a downtown branch of the Carleton Bookstore on Division Street. "They thought it was a terrific idea," said Bergeson. "Carleton wants to channel the tremendous growth and development around the area and not leave the city to fall to ruins."

Some of the growth, such as a new Target and imminent plans for grocery and hardware superstores in the immediate area, leaves many fearful about the city’s future. Residents are driving further and further away to work and shop in more developed cities, including Minneapolis/St. Paul. Just 35 minutes away is the legendary Mall of America.

Bergeson secured the lease on the 1,800-square-foot store in early September and remodeling began. River City Books shares its entrance with a bagel store, a situation that has turned out to be mutually beneficial. The store carries about 10,000 titles along with some college clothing and gift items. "Part of the store’s purpose is outreach to the community as an ambassador for the two colleges," explained Bergeson. And sales, he said, "have been fantastic; the response to the Book Sense 76 has been tremendous. We’re selling a complete cross section of the list." River City Books doesn’t carry textbooks, university presses, or academic publications, and, unlike the two college stores, it does have a romance section.

The local newspaper, the Northfield News, publishes the Book Sense Bestseller List twice a month on a page, with a feature story by a staff writer, and a column by a writer solicited by Bergeson.

Although Bergeson is the director of the new store, the day-to-day management is handled by Jon Lee, with about eight part-time staffers. Jerry Bilek, buyer for the St. Olaf store and Tripp Ryder, buyer for the Carleton store, now also buy for River City Books. -- Nomi Schwartz