Once Upon a Crime turns to GoFundMe during hard times

Once Upon a Crime bookstore at 604 W. 26th Street.

A recent downturn in business has led the owners of mystery bookstore Once Upon a Crime to turn to the public for extra funding to help maintain the independent shop.

Meg King-Abraham, who co-owns the store with her husband Dennis Abraham, said the couple knew they wouldn’t become rich when they bought the shop in early 2016, but the past year has been trying for the small business. Last week, they turned to a crowdfunding campaign to get back on track.

She cited the slew of ongoing construction near the store at 26th & Lyndale, the closing of the 26th Street bridge for several months as part of the massive project on I-35W and the loss of on-street parking near the shop as reasons for the hard times.

At times, local construction shook the subterranean shop, knocking books off shelves and causing a cash register to fall and break (the developers replaced the register, King-Abraham added).

“It was a pretty nasty area to be around for a while with the constant pounding,” King-Abraham said.

The result, she said, was a dramatic decrease in sales. The couple and their daughter Devin Abraham, who oversees day-to-day operations at the store, debated whether to ask for public help to support their private business, but decided the communal nature of the niche bookstore justified asking for people to help.

“We agonized over doing this for quite a while,” she said.

But on Nov. 26, they launched a GoFundMe campaign to help pay off their debts on the store and keep interest rates manageable. In just eight days, the effort has raised nearly $20,000 of their $25,000 goal with nearly 300 donors chipping in.

“We’ve just been amazed,” King-Abraham said.

The list of donors includes customers, authors and strangers who just like independent book stores, she said.

In addition to paying down debt, they hope to use some of the funds to revamp their website to make it easier to order products online for their customers from outside the area. King-Abraham said the shop is also looking at ways to boost profits by increasing customer experiences, such as personalized shopping lists for mystery fans, adding a puzzle space and rearranging their annex to host book clubs.

The store, which brings in authors for about 70 events a year and draws crowds in the hundreds for big names like John Sandford, is entertaining the idea of moving out of the basement storefront within the neighborhood or potentially in Northeast in pursuit of more space and parking, King-Abraham said.

Two large, independent mystery bookstores, Aunt Agatha’s Mystery Bookshop in Ann Arbor, Mich. and Seattle Mystery Bookshop, have shuttered in the past year, King-Abraham said. Once Upon a Crime doesn’t want to be the third.