Paper Trail

How five loudmouth newsies built an information dynasty.

But there was still another Shinder on the street--Daniel, doing business on the opposite end of Block E as Shinder's ReadMore Books. And so the cold war continued until 1983, when Allan finally gave up and closed the store on Sixth and Hennepin--allowing another second-generation Shinder to pick up the lease and unify the family operations once more.

AT FIRST GLANCE Joel Shinder would seem an unlikely candidate to take the family businesses into the 21st century. Daniel Shinder's only son had spent much of the 1960s out East, earning a master's degree in Middle Eastern studies from Harvard and a doctorate from Princeton. Along the way he learned to speak more than a handful of languages, including Turkish, Russian, Arabic, Hebrew, and German. From 1971 to '75 he was an associate professor of history at the University of New York-Fredonia, then returned to Minneapolis to attend law school.

But while Joel now claims it was "an accident" that left him in charge of ReadMore Books after his father's death in 1977, it appears in retrospect that he was the ideal man for the job at the time. An articulate and passionate proponent of urban diversity and free speech, he was well aware of the battles to come.

Craig Lassig

"You had three solid blocks downtown without a conceptual framework," he says. "The two Shinder's store on Sixth and Seventh were the bookends on Block E, and everything in between was disaster, a horror section. Downtown still hadn't responded to the realities of the '50s and the challenges of the suburbs. Nicollet Mall was a response to the flight, but Hennepin Avenue was neglected, and the urban mix on the avenue became something that was more feared than appreciated. The suburban theater crowd was no longer comfortable strolling downtown at night.

"I could see that we were going to have to be a chameleon to survive. In a sense we were lucky, but we were also responsive to opportunities, and I suppose there's a wisdom in seeing an opportunity and seizing it."

Daniel Shinder had recognized some of the coming changes in the years before his death and he had taken guarded steps toward diversifying his inventory, broadening the mix to include more books, a wider selection of counterculture materials, and, most importantly, collectible comic books and sports cards. His son would expand those experiments into full-blown components of his stores' identity.

"When I came into this it was apparent that news was already a vastly different business," he says. "With radio and television, and now computers and fax, there was really no need for people to seek out a newsstand for the news of the day. Even magazines today fulfill a different function. And at the same time there's more publishing now than ever before. We carry more titles now than we did in 1976. The collectible-comic-book market was more or less invented in the Twin Cities, and we got into that in the late '70s. And that flowed into sports cards, until the sports cards lost the gum and became the tail that wagged the dog."

Even as he attempted to fine-tune the selection to the growing diversity of his clientele, Shinder was faced with the possibility that city leaders would sweep his stores under the rug with the rest of the "problem spots" on Block E. In a 1981 guest column in the Minneapolis paper, he made an impassioned plea for another approach to urban revitalization. "Hennepin Avenue must not become our very own Vietnam," he wrote. "Carpet bomb it, say some. Search out the good, save it and destroy the evil, say others (who will choose?). Do nothing, let it rot, says a third crew.

"Some of us are hostile to Hennepin's variety. Some fear its adventure. Still more distrust the freedom it reveals. A street that stirs such controversy can't be all bad. Let's keep it."

IN THEIR YEARS on the avenue, the Shinders knew and stirred their share of that controversy. In 1961 the Minneapolis Police Department's morals squad arrested a clerk in a downtown bookstore for selling Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer. After the city attorney's office ruled that the book could be sold, Shinder's moved 2,000 copies of the paperback version in one week. "Whoever created that book, I ought to buy him a cigar," Harry Shinder was quoted as saying at the time.

In 1967 Minnesota began to legislate against the sale of adult materials, passing a law limiting the sale of pornography to individuals 17 or older. According to the state's definitions of pornography at the time, such materials included "a picture of a female breast with less than fully opaque covering of any portion thereof below the top of the nipple." George Scott, the Hennepin County attorney who helped draft the bill, noted that "the legislation is not aimed at responsible dealers like Shinder's, who operate within the law and try to police themselves."

By 1970 community concern over the sale of adult materials was escalating, evidenced by a headline in the Star: "Looked lately? 'Girlie' mags 'girlier.'" The Minneapolis Police morals squad was busy through much of the decade, staging raids up and down Hennepin Avenue and Lake Street. Daniel Shinder's store was an occasional target, and after one raid in which materials were seized he defended himself in the press. "Women have come in and thanked me for selling this stuff," he said, "because sometimes their husbands need a little outside interest to make them more compatible in their marriage."

« Previous Page
Next Page »