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Chapter one, page one: Zenith Bookstore opens Saturday in West Duluth

Bob Dobrow, owner of the new Zenith Bookstore in West Duluth, stands among the pine shelves holding hundreds of used and new books at the store Thursday afternoon. Dobrow believes there's a real appetite for a community-based bookstore. His place will have a soft opening from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com1 / 4
The new Zenith Bookstore on Central Avenue in West Duluth features a mural of favorite and classic books painted by Proctor artist Tom Napoli. The store will have its soft opening from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Saturday. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com2 / 4
Angel Dobrow, co-owner of Zenith Bookstore, takes a break from her work Thursday to relax on a couch in the store and pet her dog, Lisa, a Labradoodle. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com3 / 4
The book "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Other Stories" by Lewis Carroll is part of the mural on the exterior of the Zenith Bookstore. It was painted by Proctor artist Tom Napoli. Bob King / rking@duluthnews.com4 / 4

West Duluth no longer has to judge its new bookstore by the cover — colorful and inviting though it is — when Zenith Bookstore opens Saturday.

"We're getting so much buzz and goodwill," said Bob Dobrow, owner of the shop at 318 N. Central Ave. "There's a real appetite for a community-based bookstore."

The new and used bookseller has been a year in the making, and the recently painted mural fronting the shop — a collection of books painted by local artist Tom Napoli — has prompted many heads to pop in while the interior gets its finishing touches.

"People have been coming by all the time and getting pictures of it with their kids," Dobrow said.

Though it was as quiet as a library Thursday afternoon, come Saturday, and every Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. after, residents and visitors will bustle through to bear witness to the first chapter for Zenith Bookstore, and a new chapter for an old West Duluth storefront.

"We're feeling our way; we want to see what works," Dobrow said.

A sign set up on the sidewalk outside the Zenith Bookstore in West Duluth. Bob King  / News Tribune

Dobrow and his wife, Angel, are new to town, but he gets that same glimmer in his eye when talking about Lake Superior as the many others who've decided to put down roots here for good. A recently retired Carleton College math professor originally from Boston, Dobrow had long dreamed of opening a bookstore, so he bought the former longtime liquor store next to Beaner's Central coffeehouse last summer to get to work on that dream.

From the main entrance, customers are greeted by a selection of new books on an enormous table dubbed "the beast," along with the scent of new pine from all those new towering bookshelves.

For much of the rest of the store, it's easy to forget you're perusing entirely used books, based on the selection and condition of the thousands of titles.

"We have a high bar for what we take," Dobrow said.

While new books, which can be special-ordered, will go for their cover price — aside from a table of half-off selections — used books are deeply discounted, even in hardcover.

Each used title bears a store-printed barcode, allowing the inventory to be easily searchable and for Zenith Bookstore's books to automatically be accepted for credit in good condition. Dobrow will take other good-condition books as needed for store credit but said he would pay cash only for the occasional collection or hard-to-find item.

As customers build store credit trading in their unwanted books, they can pay half their bill with it at a time — which makes business sense for Dobrow, whose business has been spending money and not earning any during the months of preparations leading up to Saturday's opening.

The store's initial stock presents plenty of options for bookworms and bibliophiles, from the Minnesota authors section bordering the wall of food books to science and math — including a textbook or two authored by Dobrow — all the way back to mysteries and histories and plenty of literary fiction near the kids section.

The bookshop also has partnered with, which offers an audiobook service similar to Audible through partnerships with indie booksellers, and plans to offer author events such as a reading/signing by "South Pole Station" writer and Twin Cities resident Ashley Shelby next Thursday.

Dobrow said events and community involvement are just some of many advantages a real shop like Zenith Bookstore has over the industry-crushing

"People want to look each other in the eye, not at a blinking cursor," he said.


Zenith Bookstore:

Brooks Johnson

Brooks is an investigative/enterprise reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune.

(218) 723-5329