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“Real Retailer” is a monthly feature where we discuss industry strategies, trends, happenings, or just about anything relevant with toy and hobby retailers across the country. If you have something interesting to say and would like to be featured here, by all means tell us! Please contact press@toydirectory.com

Real Retailer
By Kris Decker
December 1, 2002

Store Name: The Red Balloon Bookshop
Store Location: 891 Grand Avenue, St. Paul, Minnesota, 55105
Owners: Michele Cromer-Poire and Carol Erdahl
Name and Title of Interviewee: Michele Cromer-Poire, Co-owner, operator.

Like the story it’s named after, The Red Balloon Bookshop isn’t afraid to find its own path. An independent children's bookseller, The Red Balloon last month celebrated its eighteenth year of business in the Twin Cities. The curious need only consult the local press for proof of the store's enduring charm. Minnesota Monthly's readers voted them "Best Selection of Children's Books.” City Pages named them "Best Children's Bookstore,” and Minneapolis St. Paul Magazine has dubbed them "Best Children's Bookstore" so many times that the store has been put in their "Hall of Fame."

ToyDirectory Monthly: What makes The Red Balloon so special?

Michele Cromer-Poire: "Selection is very, very important," says co-owner Michele Cromer-Poire. "The store's walls are covered with books. By conscious choice our stock is almost exclusively books." In fact, less than 20% of The Red Balloon's collection is games, music, or interactive play puppets, and most of those have book tie-ins.

"We have always wanted to look like a bookstore, feel like a bookstore and act like a bookstore," Cromer-Poire states.

But being a children's bookstore isn’t all picture books and learning your ABC’s. From its inception, The Red Balloon has made space on its shelves for young adults, toddlers, and every age level in-between. This larger niche focus was what Cromer-Poire and her partner Carol Erdahl were intent on from the beginning—before they’d even met.

In 1983, after a visit to a kids’ bookstore in Boston, former school librarian Erdahl found herself thinking of opening a shop of her own. Back in Minnesota, she began researching possibilities, with one name cropping up again and again: Michele Cromer-Poire. It turned out that Cromer-Poire, then a co-owner of Odegard Books in St. Paul, had been toying with the idea of opening a children's bookstore for some time. The two women met, pooled their talents, and a year later The Red Balloon Bookshop opened its doors.

"We hit the ground running," says Cromer-Poire.

In addition to a comprehensive selection, she maintains there is another essential ingredient to their success. "Our staff is an outstanding group of people," she says. "These people know books and they know our customers well. They're astute about children's books as well as children."

Despite their success, The Red Balloon has no plans for additional locations. "We do one store extremely well," explains Cromer-Poire. If word of mouth is a reliable indicator, then customers agree with her.

Additionally, the store publishes a regular newsletter informing customers of special events and upcoming author appearances. They also produce an interactive web site: (redballoonbookshop.com/NASApp/store/IndexJsp). Visitors to the site can read-up on the latest happenings, order books, and browse the store’s extensive inventory.

"We've got a good reputation," Cromer-Poire says. "And we've earned it by quality selection and a high level of customer service. We strive always to improve both."


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