Information Shops

The Info on Minneapolis Infoshops
–Amanda Luker, Arise! Resource Center and Bookstore

As Barnes and Noble, Borders, Amazon.com and the like swell rapidly in size and domination of the book world, independent booksellers and infoshops grow in importance to the health of our community. In the past few years, mega-chains like as those listed above have tightened their stranglehold on the book-buying market by offering internet convenience and bottom-line prices.

So why should we care? As San Francisco Chronicle journalist Laura Hamberg answers in a recent article, “Because the chaining of America slowly dissolves our connection to our communities. It saps our feeling of individuality and diminishes our relationships with other human beings – with the people behind the counters at the local shop who know our name and everything about cult films and every book Don DeLillo has written.” Today, located uncomfortably in the shadow cast by the Mega-Ultra-Superstore phenomenon, infoshops offer something unique, quirky and meaningful to an increasingly cookie-cut world.

According to the Slingshot newspaper, infoshops are a “cross between a radical bookstore and a movement archive,” since most offer much more than just books. Most infoshops exist as political resources and pride themselves on the diversity of opinion lining the shelves. In an infoshop, one can read the Communist Manifesto, the SCUM Manifesto and even theUnabomber Manifesto. Post-colonial African novels share shelf space with queer erotica, Marxist philosophy tomes, green anarchist rants, porn-friendly feminist declarations, and raw food “cook” books. Annie Sprinkle and Andrea Dworkin. John Zerzan and Marx and Engels. Huey Newton and Mahatma Ghandi. This spectrum vividly illustrates what infoshops are.

The heart of the infoshop movement is Europe, where they began. At one time, there were over sixty infoshops in Germany. Those in Europe tend to act as a network, spreading information amongst themselves when necessary, and all meet twice a year to share ideas and information. Many are run out of squats. In America, infoshops are not as well connected, nor are they necessarily even on amicable terms. The story of Minneapolis infoshops proves this point.

The first Twin Cities infoshop emerged in 1975 during the infamous co-op wars (documented in Craig Cox’s Storefront Revolution), in the back room of the Selby Co-op grocery store in St. Paul. After an ideological disagreement, the books were moved to a volunteer’s basement. Mayday Books opened a few months later at the corner of Selby and Western Avenues with a staff of eight to ten volunteers. Five years later, Mayday moved to Minneapolis. After trying several different spaces, one complete with punk shows in the basement, they finally settled for a while at 32nd and Chicago Ave.

The rules of the collective were incredibly stringent (compared to the current lax state of the store). Not only did a collective member have to work a shift and come to a weekly meeting, but she or he was required to be a part of a study group and be a member of another activist group outside the collective! If a volunteer missed three consecutive meetings they were suspended from collective and had to volunteer for six months before they could become a collective member. They seemed to think there was no room for slack when the revolution was imminent.

In the back of this space, Minneapolis’ first strictly anarchist bookstore, Backroom Books, opened. They later moved to 27th and Nicollet. Mayday itself, however, was at a low point. They closed their doors and again reopened in their current space on Cedar Avenue on the West Bank, near the University of Minnesota.

During this time, the Arise! Newspaper debuted its first few issues. In correlation with Friends for a Non-violent World and the Southern Africa Resource Center, the newspaper spread information and words of solidarity toward the growing anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Soon the paper, housed in Mayday Books, was also printing articles by Minnesotans for a United Ireland and American Indian groups – pulling news of liberation struggles across the globe into one publication.

As the same time, some members, many of whom were affiliated with Arise!left the collective over procedural disagreements. They eventually raised money to open a shop called Arise! in South Minneapolis, which is still active today.

It would be a mistake to talk about Twin Cities infoshops without a brief mention of Emma Center and the Insurrecreation Center, both valiant and truly DIY (do-it-yourself) efforts to forge meaningful community in Minneapolis through storefront gathering and information space. The Insurrecreation Center survived one summer (1998), but hosted many vegan potlucks and punk shows while it lasted. The Emma Center opened in 1992 thanks to activists who were involved in the Twin Cities Anarchist Federation (an umbrella group) and some folks involved in the Powderhorn Food Co-op. Before closing shop in 1995, Emma Center acted as a center for anarchist activities, sold books and magazines, supplied free clothes, food and weekend child care, and hosted Women’s and Queer Space nights and frequent punk shows.

Today, both Mayday and Arise! host meetings of progressive organizations and sell many of the same books. Some who speculate on the differences between the two infoshops may say that Mayday has more of an intellectual feeling (located almost on the campus of the University of Minnesota) and a desire for working class revolution, while Arise! has anarchist tendencies and a free-spirited environment (for better or worse). But, in the end, the differences are negligible. The mere existence of two long-running infoshops in one city proves there is something remarkable about Minneapolis and its people.