Zenith Bookstore, a new addition to West Duluth

Jordan Bissell

Photo credits: Jordan Bissell
Photo credits: Jordan Bissell

We had the pleasure of checking out the soon to be open, Zenith Bookstore, which is opening July 1. Located at 318 N Central Ave, formerly the home of Wild West Liquor, and right next to Beaner’s Central. To those that knew the old building, it has really had an amazing facelift, inside and out. New owner, Bob Dobrow, sat down with us to talk about it. 

We were aware quite some time ago that Wild West Liquor had closed its doors, but until recently, hadn’t heard of any new plans for space. Turns out, Dobrow has had this in the works over the last year. “It was sort of a long odyssey, we probably made the decision about  a year ago, I had just retired from teaching, we had lived in Northfield, Minnesota for sixteen years, and had decided to retire in Duluth,” explained Dobrow, “The earliest life fantasy we could think of was, owning a bookstore, and we’d never done anything like that, or owned a business, and so we started thinking about it, but this idea just sort of hit me like a bolt of lightning, and it just seemed like the perfect thing to do, so right, and such a great project.”

Considering we only have a couple of locally owned bookstores, it’s significant that someone is putting one together, especially because it will be the only bookstore in our west end. It also seems like a great fit next to west Duluth’s concert coffeehouse, Beaner’s Central. When asked how they ended up in this location, Dobrow said, “When we started out, we were talking to folks, and I had no experience in selling books, so we started talking about what to do, and making contact with other sellers, and then we actually made contact with the owner of Northern Lights Bookstore, which used to be in Canal Park. We happened to meet at Beaner’s, we came out after the meeting, and there was a ‘For Sale’ sign on the place next door. So, I called them up, and that’s how it all started. Bought the building last summer in July, and have just been kind of consumed with renovation and construction since then.”

The overhaul they did on this space is pretty miraculous. For starters, there is an amazing book-themed mural going up on the outside of the store. Facing Central Ave, there is now a beautiful, almost finished mural of the spines of books on a shelf, by Tom Napoli. When we asked Dobrow about what kind of work must have gone into the interior overhaul, he answered, “Yes, we did a lot. We exposed the brick walls, we opened up the ceilings, we sanded the floor, and the heating was inadequate, so we installed all new systems.” It’s fair to mention that this has all turned out nicely, but the real gem is the pine wood book shelves they’ve built to hold their inventory.

It’s not an enormous building, but they’ve done a nice job using the space well to fill it with as many books as possible, equip with many of the categories you’d expect of an adequate bookstore, including a nice children’s section. Upon inquiring about new inventory versus used books, Dobrow said, “Ninety percent are used, we are going to have some new, we actually just got our new shipment, really good curation, lot’s of indy books, lots of good new titles too, but an overwhelming amount of our inventory is used books.” Curious how one goes from never having sold books to the massive collection you’ll now find in Zenith Bookstore, we asked about how they obtained this many titles, “A lot of them were books that were in our personal collection. We were kind of drowning in books, and asking ourselves why we needed this many at home. We also collected a lot of books over the years from friends, from library sales, from yard sales, etc,” said Dobrow, “We’re actually also seeing a lot of local support, many people have also been coming in and donating books too.” We should also add, there is a special shelf, of all Peter Pauper Press, which is no longer in print. 

Another thing they’re working on is a local presence, “We’d really like to have a good local, Minnesota author section, so that’s important to us.” said Dobrow, “We also hope to have events, author events, and book signings. We actually have a Minnesotan woman who lives in Minneapolis, coming out with her debut novel, ’South Pole Station’, and she’ll be here the first Thursday after we open (July 6). There’s also more information about that on our Facebook, her name is Ashley Shelby.”

Opening July 1, and planning to start off being open five days a week on Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 am to 7 pm. Dobrow added, “As we get to learn more about the neighborhood and the community, that could get adjusted.”