Andy Hersey had been working at Paperback Exchange in Lynnhurst for about three years when the former owner decided to move out of state and sell the shop in the 90s. Hersey, who was a high school student living around the corner from the bookstore at the time, told his parents about his boss’ decision. His parents, Keith and Marion Hersey, decided to buy the legacy bookstore.
Keith was in between jobs and looking for a more fulfilling job at the time, and Marion started working at the bookstore after her teaching job and on the weekends. Andy continued working at the store. He doesn’t quite remember why he was drawn to work at the bookstore in the first place, though he imagined that the convenience of living around the corner had something to do with it, but he said his family had always been readers.
“We’d always come over here as kids to look at books, get books,” he said. “[My parents] were always reading when I was growing up. They’d always go to the library and take us to the library, and they were always avid readers.”
Some 33 years later, Hersey’s parents are mostly retired from Paperback Exchange and Hersey, who now lives in Northeast Minneapolis, owns the shop.
Andy has worked at the bookstore since high school though he scaled back significantly when he worked at Oak Street Cinema in Stadium Village in late 90s and early 2000s.
He came back to the bookstore around 2007 when the theater was going through a change in leadership and financial troubles and was eventually demolished in 2011. Work at Paperback Exchange became much easier with the incorporation of the internet in daily tasks. They used tedious microfiche to look up new book titles When he first started at the bookstore. The internet allowed Hersey to easily look up new titles to order as well as collectible or out of print books.
The use of the internet is one of the biggest changes in business since Hersey started at Paperback Exchange in high school. The former owner, Diane Kitterman, bought the store from the group of women who started it in 1975. Though most of the books in stock are used books that customers traded in, Hersey stocks more new books than Kitterman, who relied mostly on the used book business.
The used book trading system at Paperback Exchange, which Hersey said was much more common when he started working there in the 90s, hasn’t changed much over the years. Customers can bring in their books for a discount on a new book. He doesn’t know of many stores that use this method today.
Hersey doesn’t turn many books away in the trade system. As the Paperback Exchange, he does turn away hardcover books (hence the name of the store), as well as books that are in very poor condition. He tries not to censor what books come in through the trade system.
“If something is offensive, then I guess I don’t buy it. But we’re not going to edit what people have access to,” Hersey said. “People can make up their own mind.”
He said that other bookstore exchanges pay for the books, but they tend to be picky about which books they accept, which creates a more curated stock. Paperback Exchange doesn’t do that.
“So the stock is going to be sort of a reflection of the owner of the store, whereas we’re more of a reflection of the customers,” Hersey said.
The system Hersey uses creates Paperback Exchange’s biggest challenge: an overflow of books. The shop itself is stacked from floor to ceiling with books, and Hersey said there’s more where that came from.
“It’s just like an endless stream of books coming and going. It’s great, but sometimes it’s a lot. My house is full of books, my parents’ house is full of books, we’ve got a storage space in St. Paul that’s full of books, the basement is full of books,” Hersey said. “We’re not running out of books.”
Hersey credits the neighborhood for keeping the store going all these years. The corner of 50th and Penn where the shop sits hasn’t changed much with legacy businesses like Scuba Center, Broders’ and Lake Harriet Pizza.
“I think there’s a lot of readers in this neighborhood that have enabled the store to last. Other bookstores have come and gone, but there seems to be readers in this neighborhood,” Hersey said.
Proximity to the lakes, walkability and the variety of small businesses make the neighborhood special to Hersey, whose parents still live around the corner from the shop.
“We make just enough money to keep going,” Hersey said. “No one’s getting rich doing this but we enjoy it. People like the store, so that helps when people say they love the store.”
Paperback Exchange customers range from neighborhood regulars to people driving by, in a variety of ages and demographics, mirroring the variety of books in the store.
“I think that’s maybe why we’re still doing this. Just because it’s not super stressful. And the people are usually nice,” Hersey said. “You don’t have to deal with too much crap.”
Paperback Exchange is located at 2227 W 50th St. The store is open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 12 - 5 p.m. Sunday.