Wayzata's Bookcase: A History

The oldest independent bookstore in the lake area isn’t ready for “The End.”
Charlie Leonard has been at the helm of The Bookcase for four years.

Like the many tomes it houses, The Bookcase is steeped in history, beloved by many and has a multitude of stories to share—tales of family roots, loyal friendships and local interest. But after spending nearly 50 years as a pillar of the Wayzata community, changing times are threatening to end their narrative, and current owner Charlie Leonard is looking to the community for help.

Originally established by the Case family in downtown Minneapolis in the 1950s, The Bookcase made the transition out to Wayzata only a few years later. “According to legend,” says Leonard, “the building that they were in was going to be torn down during the time when the Nicollet Mall area was being constructed, and they started looking for someplace to go.”

After relocating to the lakeside resort town in the 1960s, the Cases spent another decade running the business out of a cozy, 1,000-square-foot building before selling the thriving bookstore to Gail See, a longtime Wayzata resident and a business partner. 

See not only had a passion for books, but a fascination with their ability to bring people together.  “I’ve always felt that bookstores were the anchor of a community,” says See. “[The Bookcase] was like a well on Main Street, a gathering place for everyone to come and talk and see what was going on.” 

But as the store became the central hub that See envisioned, it also became apparent that it was outgrowing its diminutive real estate. Consequently, The Bookcase made its second move to its current location, on the corner of Lake Street and Walker Avenue. Here, the expanded store joined the Lake Street Association and began to fully realize its potential in becoming a cornerstone of the Wayzata community. 

In the early 1990s, See decided that it was time to start a new chapter in the Bookcase’s history and passed the store along to Peggy Burnett, another local book enthusiast who furthered the Bookcase’s popularity by opening an on-site coffee shop—a rather novel idea at the time. 

Though this savvy move greatly increased the store’s traffic, its success was bittersweet, as it also hinted at society’s gradual move away from the leisurely, personalized interactions that independent businesses are often known for to a business model based on speed, convenience and homogeneity.   

Charlie Leonard witnessed these changes first-hand over the next few years, as he divided his time between his career as a teacher in the Hopkins school district and his part-time employment at the Bookcase. Though the business admittedly faced some challenges, Leonard’s love for the store outweighed any reservations he might have had, and in 2007, he and his grandparents decided to purchase the store. 

Today, the Bookcase is home to a diverse mixture of literary fiction, non-fiction, local interest pieces and an abounding children’s section. Leonard makes great efforts to keep a broad selection of materials on hand, and additionally works with many area schools and local book clubs to guide his book selection and facilitate author events. “The diversity of what we do is one of the things that make us arguably the best independent bookstore in the Twin Cities,” avers Leonard.

Still, despite all his efforts, Leonard’s challenges keep growing. National stressors, like the recent economic struggles and the introduction of electronic books, as well as local hurdles like the recent road construction projects in downtown Wayzata, have all taken their toll on Leonard’s business. “It’s hard,” he admits, “and it’s not just us. I think that right now, a lot of independent businesses are struggling. I think you’d be hard pressed to find an owner who [turns down] help from the community.”    

And right now, that help is just what the Bookcase needs. “The community has to know that if they don’t support local businesses, we won’t be here. We just can’t be here,” says Leonard.  And ultimately, it will be the community that will decide whether The Bookcase gets it’s ‘happily ever after.’