Friday, August 2, 2013


I first walked into SubText: A Bookstore* shortly after Sue Zumberge opened it
in September of 2012. I was drawn in by the calm, welcoming character of the place. It didn’t take long for me to discover where that ambience came from.

If you follow my blog, you may recall that every so often I write about women who inspire me...women I think of as modern-day goddesses...women who take on something new at an age when most folks are thinking about retirement. Sue Zumberge, owner of SubText, is one of those women.

I first met Sue three years ago. SubText didn’t exist yet but Common Good Books did. Sue was one of the on-staff “bookies” who happened to be on site the day I (desperately!) needed some reading material to help see me through my newly diagnosed brain tumor. I explained to her what I was looking for, steeling myself for the usual “poor dear, how alarming” smothering responses I’d already experienced too many times. Sue’s face reflected empathy (very different from sympathy, thank goodness) and she immediately led me to three titles.

“Hmm,” I thought, “knowledgeable, supportive, respectful...I’d like to get to know this woman better.” I’ve gotten to know Sue better during these past three years; she hasn’t disappointed.

Sue opened her first bookstore in Whitefish, Montana when she was 22. Gutsy? She didn’t think so. She’d been entrenched in books since she learned to read; to Sue, owning a bookstore after graduation from college seemed like a natural next step. Except for a time spent keeping her husband’s business books, Sue’s  been involved in bookstores ever since, even while raising three daughters to adulthood. (“My kids lived in bookstores”.) So is it that makes a woman start a new business at an age when most folks are thinking about retirement? What challenges does she face? What are the joys that keep her going?

Frankly, I expected Sue to tell me about how scary it is to be in this business. After all, the Twin Cities is rife with bookstores, both “big box” and small independents. But nothing about Sue’s demeanor reflected anything but calm self-assurance. Indeed, this is a woman who’s at the top of her game. Her daughter told me that Sue “is absolutely in her element when she’s  in a bookstore.”

Maybe it’s Sue’s life as a passionate reader that makes SubText work so well. Sue credits her parents for her voracious reading habit. “My mom was an avid reader and buyer of books. Grandma, too. Christmas memories usually involve 'the best gift I ever got.' For me, those memories involve ‘the best gifts I never wanted’. I’d tear through all the goodies first, of course, but then I’d read! The Yearling, My Antonia, Ramona. (No, not that one; this one was about a Native American girl.) My 13th summer I read Crime and Punishment and Winston Churchill’s autobiography...just because they were on my parents’ bookshelves.”

Challenges? “Keeping track of what people (want),” she said. She  doesn’t watch TV so she’s not aware of what talk shows are touting. “So I read...a lot. I’m a very fast reader. I read one for me, one for the store.” It must work; the array of genres and titles would be the envy of any book-aholic. (Can’t find what you want? An artisan-drawn quote above the shelves says it all: “You can’t always get what you want...but you just might find you can special order it for free.” And inadvertently, you just might find that a few minutes of talking with this amazing woman will inspire you to try something new...whether it's a book or a new endeavor.

*SubText: A Bookstore
165 Western Ave., N.
St. Paul, MN 55102

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