(All Photos by Ben LaFond)
“Hello, I’m Fluffy. I’m the stupid blonde person who owns this whole bizarre bazaar and this whole now-over-property-taxed corner!”
In spite of such a self-deprecating introduction, Lynn “Fluffy” Murray will readily inform you that she’s kept Book Trader in business because she knows what she’s doing. Opened in 1989 at the corner of 54th Street and 34th Avenue, it was first purely a used book retailer. The store’s holdings, however, began expanding as Fluffy’s talents for acquisitions matured. Today the bookstore barely resembles its namesake. A stuffed zebra head stares at you through the front windows next to a child’s lederhosen dangling from the ceiling in front of a cabinet stuffed with empty bottles from ancient tinctures.
But, as with everything she does, Fluffy has her reasons for this. “The number of people who come in and say, ‘Oh my god. I didn’t come in because I saw all of those animals and things in the window. I knew it couldn’t be a book store!’ The sign says: Book. Trader. Hardcovers. Paperbacks. I’m not going to put good hardcovers in the sun, they’ll get wrecked. So the animals that lived in sunlight might as well live in the window!”
Crossing the threshold into Book Trader requires customers bid adieu to their semi-sketchy reality outside in favor of an incense-soaked world of curiosities. According to Fluffy, the neighborhood has gotten a bit rougher in the past twenty or so years. “Every business down here has been gotten at least once with a gun, a knife, a baseball bat. So we all carry. ” After bouncing back from a particularly vicious attack on Fluffy herself in 2004, our proprietress reassures us that she’s not going anywhere: “I’m a tough broad.”
This is a very good thing for treasure hunters. If Fluffy is to be trusted, there approximately 350,000 book titles hidden within the store’s eight rooms. In addition to reference materials and English classics, she has books written in Russian, Chinese, Japanese, Hmong and more, all stacked triple-deep along the aisles. But she’s also got miscellanea out the wazoo: taxidermy ranging in condition from mangy to artfully posed, jade necklace on a “junk chain,” a pair of early rollerskates from the 1930s, a Hillary Rodham Clinton nutcracker, porcelain figurines, vintage porn…
No wonder, as Fluffy says, “It will suck your brain right out. You can’t look straight ahead.”
Best of all, Fluffy probably is to be trusted when it comes to Book Trader’s stock. She’s a walking, talking, one woman card catalog for the place. “Knowing where this stuff is, and being able to go get it for people who have had their brains leak out their ears is my claim to fame. Now, I can not remember to bring home bread, because that costs me money. I have little rooms in my brain with elevators and I’ve had to build more buildings to have more floors with more floors.”
For instance, a customer came in looking for things or images pertaining to honeybees. Without hesitating, Fluffy turned to the shelf behind her and put a jar of bees in the woman’s hand, then began instructing her to the area of the store that would contain books on the subject.
Of course, as Book Trader’s sole proprietor, she would need to be nearly infallible. Not only is she responsible for bringing every single item into the place, but when not attending to customers she spends the rest of her time cleaning up after us by putting things back where they belong. While re-shelving a misplaced book, I marveled within earshot at a matching set of tiny honey warmers from Japan, to which Fluffy nonchalantly replied, “Those are from two different sales. Eventually you run across almost everything–at least once–if you look hard enough.”
Fluffy has no doubt as to who comprises her clientele. “After they’ve been here five or six years and cleaned the place of stuff they have to have, then they tell their friends and family. Then those people say ‘Well I’ve been coming here for 22 years, I just didn’t tell you. This is where all of your birthday and Christmas presents come from!’”
Could it be more endearing? It’s Minneapolitans’ closely guarded, yet collectively held secret that’s kept her in business all these years.
Before we’d finished our visit, I may or may not have dropped a bunch of money then said the words I can never come back here, while Ben might have promised Fluffy thousands of dollars in the future. We were fully won over, and it took many pep talks to convince ourselves not to keep Book Trader a secret for just a little bit longer.