There’s a little Minneapolis shop on 34th Avenue, somewhere between the Minnehaha and Morris Park neighborhoods. It’s nestled in with a convenience store and a tire shop. The sign overhead reads “The Book Trader.” The taxidermied ibex standing in the window directly below it, holding its gigantic, coiling horns aloft, promises so much more.
The shop is an Escher-like maze of esoterica. It’s full to the brim -- bookshelves upon bookshelves crammed with objects no one could anticipate wanting. There are postcards and snow globes and ancient Halloween decorations. There’s a glass case full of knives, yards from a melodramatic collection of dragon statuettes adorned with crystal. Taxidermy ranging from good to bad to so bad it crosses over into good again watches you with a hundred eyes from every corner.
Visitors old and new find its geometry impossible to parse. Just when you think you’ve come to the far end, another corner beckons, and another after that. Some treasures hide in plain sight and only reveal themselves on the fourth or fifth visit -- the real elephant foot resting snugly on the seat of an old chair, or the antique coin with a hidden blade tucked into its edge.
Then there was the greatest mystery of all: the owner. Lynn Marie Murray was a wiry old woman with half-moon glasses and a mane of white hair swept tightly behind her head. But no one ever called her Lynn.
“When I first asked her name, she drew herself up in this dramatic way, like RuPaul,” frequent customer Anita Summers says. “And she said, ‘My name is Fluffy.’”
She told all her customers to call her Fluffy. Not everyone knew why, but everyone did it anyway.
Summers had wandered into the Book Trader because her divorce mediator had been right down the street. She would go to and from the office and look into the fleeting eyes of the taxidermied animals along the way countless times before she got up the gumption to go inside. It was like stepping into Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, she says. Before long, she was bringing her son along with her, watching him fall in love with a stuffed coyote he affectionately called Steve.
Fluffy, ever-presiding over her trove, was a whip-cracking conversationalist. Her experiences were just as varied as the novelties in her shop. A Dunn County News article claimed she’d been an “ironworker, waitress, restaurant manager, bar manager, hospital kitchen employee, meat processing employee, typist, librarian and more” before she sold mysterious, wonderful junk.
There was a method to the store’s madness, if you asked her. There was a section for horror, a section for kids, a section for porn where stacks upon stacks of Playboys from the ‘60s sat in full view, and a section for Christian books and trinkets.
“There must be balance in the universe,” she used to say.
Summers says that she had a certain “hard edge” to her. If someone knocked something off the shelf, they got a proper razzing with a sprinkle of kindness mixed in.
In 2004, Fluffy’s hard edge was put to the test. She survived a vicious attack by two teenage brothers, who lured her into the back of her store and proceeded to beat her, crack off all her teeth on one side of her face, drag her on the floor and stomp her in the chest. They wrenched an antique ring off her finger before they left her to die.
She managed to shamble to a nearby gas station to get help. The day after the attack, she returned to work.
“NO ONE WILL INTIMIDATE ME OUT OF MY OWN STORE,” she told the Dunn County News over email.
The neighborhood rose to her aid. They helped pay for her jaw surgery, replaced her storefront windows, and showered her in cards and flowers. Avalon Security stepped up to put in a high-tech security system so it would never happen again.
In recent years, Summers says, she got the impression that Fluffy was increasingly trapped by the store she’d loved. She always ran it on her own, and the work wasn’t getting easier as she got older. But on her best days, she was always gabbing with customers, tucking little treasures like miniature Chambord bottles in with big purchases. Her repeat customers always got a suggestion when they walked in the door:
“Oh, I’ve got something you’ll love.”
The Book Trader has been waiting dormant, its doors shuttered, ever since Fluffy died Sept. 12. She was 68. The shop and its fathomless trove falls into the hands of her family, who are attempting to sell it. Her daughter, Elizabeth English, wouldn’t say much about how the process is going, but she did say a little about her mother. Her word for the woman was “feisty.”
“She was very funny, but she’d put people in their place,” she says. The nickname “Fluffy” had originally been sort of an insult, she says -- an homage by Fluffy’s first husband to a toothy, sasquatch-like monster from Creepshow.
“It was kind of mean,” she says. Nonetheless, Fluffy adopted it and made it her own.
For the moment, the menagerie of stuffed animals and knickknacks stay where they are, cheaply priced and unable to beckon wanderers inside as they used to. The comments under her short obituary on the Star Tribune’s website are full regret for the loss of her, for the store:
“This woman was magic.”
“She even kidded us if we wanted we could get married there!”
“I can still hear my granddaughter’s voice, ‘Hi, Fluffy… do you have any toy ponies?’ And fluffy not skipping a beat, as she guided us through the labyrinth…”
Summers’ son, Trey Williams, remembers where he was when he learned of Fluffy’s passing. She’d been “the coolest lady” he’d ever known outside his own family. He’d asked her if one day, he could come back and work with her. He’d wanted to have a store just like hers when he grew up -- a place where he could smell the old books and enchant passersby with surprises around every bend. And now, she was gone.
“I had to sit down and soak it in for a second,” he says. “I think I cried then.”
He admitted that he’d never bought Steve the coyote, and he’d always regretted it. He wondered if, somewhere in that maze, trapped behind a locked door, he was still there, waiting.