Thursday, June 04, 2020

“The Uncles” Consumed by Flames

My best friend from college, Byron Rice, lives with his family in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Over the decades, every time I’ve visited Byron there, he and I have made a special point of swinging by Uncle Edgar’s Mystery Bookstore (at 2864 Chicago Avenue South) to browse and, more often than not, buy fistfuls of books. While the ridiculously overstuffed shop offered new books, it was usually the old paperbacks that drew my attention. Thanks to Uncle Edgar’s, my collection has beefed up to include vintage yarns by Robert Terrall, Thomas B. Dewey, Harold Q. Masur, Richard Dougherty, and many other writers.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic pretty much shut down air travel worldwide, I’d been planning to fly out to Minneapolis early this month and spend a week there. Trips to Uncle Edgar’s as well as to Once Upon a Crime were, of course, on the agenda. Needless to say, I had to scrap those plans altogether as the pandemic worsened.

(Right) Uncle Edgar’s stuffed its shelves full of wonders.

And now comes worse news, from The Gumshoe Site: “Uncle Edgar’s Mystery Bookstore and its sister store, Uncle Hugo's Science Fiction Bookstore, two of the most famous genre bookstores in America, were torched and burned down by rioting vandals (not protesters) in the very early morning of Saturday, May 30, in … the wake of the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.” The Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal points out that those twin shops, located in the same modest “century-old commercial storefront,” were “located on Chicago Avenue just one block north of Lake Street and about nine blocks north of the intersection where Floyd died.” As Byron informs me, such a location put them too near the protest zone to be safe from spillover violence.

Publishers Weekly provides this account of the destruction:
On Saturday, owner Don Blyly posted on the store’s website under the headline, “Uncle Hugo’s and Uncle Edgar’s Foully Slain,” the same statement he sent employees and posted on Facebook earlier that day: vandals had broken all the windows in the two stores and then squirted accelerant through them. By the time he arrived on the scene in the wee hours of Saturday morning, both stores were too full of smoke for him to save anything. Buildings on both sides of the street were burning as “dozens of people were dancing around.”

“No sign of any cops, national guard troops, or any help,” Blyly wrote. “I’m pretty sure the insurance policy excludes damage from a civil insurrection, so I suspect I won’t get a cent for either the building or the contents.”
Blyly founded Uncle Hugo’s in 1974, and six years later opened Uncle Edgar’s. They eventually became major attractions for readers.

The Business Journal explains: “‘The Uncles,’ as Blyly refers to the stores, contained over 100,000 used and new volumes when they burned. There were rare signed editions and decades of collectibles. He estimated the retail value at around $1 million.” That publication adds that even before the recent Minneapolis riots, Blyly’s business was in trouble. “Like many retailers, Blyly was already struggling due to the coronavirus pandemic, which had prevented him from opening his stores to walk-in traffic since March. Four of his six employees had gone on unemployment, returning to work not long before the stores were destroyed. While Blyly worked long hours to fill mail orders alone during the shutdown, cashflow was limited. He estimated he owes publishers about $50,000 for books delivered before the fire.”

It’s not yet clear whether Blyly will rebuild his conjoined bookstores. However, he’s been told that—fortunately—his insurance policy for the structure and its inventory will indeed cover his loss, though it may not provide him with sufficient funds for reconstruction. “In the meantime,” the Business Journal reports, “Blyly plans to run a small mail-order business out of his home. He’ll start by selling Uncle Hugo’s and Uncle Edgar’s branded T-shirts and sweatshirts; he recently ordered a two-year supply.” A GoFundMe campaign (with a whopping $500,000 goal!) has also been launched to assist Blyly in whatever direction he decides to take his business.

Check the stores’ Facebook page for news updates.


Neeru said...

Real tragedy.

HonoluLou said...

“What is the meaning of it, Watson? said Holmes solemnly as he laid down the paper. "What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or else our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable. But what end? There is the great standing perennial problem to which human reason is as far from an answer as ever.”

― Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventure of the Cardboard Box

(God Bless Don Blyly and crew for the 46 years of reading pleasure they've provided, that can never be erased, and best wishes to the future.)

J F Norris said...

I visited this store anytime I went to Minneapolis. Like Jeff I found many a prize on the jammed shelves. I'm literally sick. As a lifelong advocate for and customer of vintage bookstores, especially those that only deal in genre fiction like mystery novels and science fiction, I am truly heartbroken by this insane and purposeless violence. Chicago is being ruined as well. Just as we were about to return to some semblance of normality, so many small businesses looking forward to re-opening and making a living again, have been robbed not only of their goods but of their futures.