Northlandia: Lake Superior beachside cottage bookstore more than just a pretty space

Drury Lane Books in Grand Marais may have a picturesque location, but what keeps people coming back is the tailored selection and the sense of community.

Cottage bookstore.
Drury Lane Books is located at 12 Wisconsin St. in Grand Marais.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

GRAND MARAIS — For Northland readers, it's like the end of the rainbow.

If you walk east down Wisconsin Street, Grand Marais Harbor with its iconic lighthouse visible on your right, you'll pass Java Moose, the Gun Flint Tavern, Sven and Ole's Pizza and the World's Best Donuts. A view across hundreds of miles of open Lake Superior water beckons ... and at the end of the road, there's a cottage full of books.

"This is about 650 square feet of selling space," said store manager Gwen Danfelt, standing in the stacks earlier this month. "I have about 5,000 books packed in here."

Drury Lane Books was founded in 2002, amid a precipitous decline in retail bookselling. Between 1995 and 2009, according to membership data from the American Booksellers Association, the country lost over three-quarters of its brick-and-mortar bookstore locations.

Founder Joan Drury had faith, though. "I don't think it felt risky to her at all," said Drury's daughter, Kelly Kager. "Amazon provides such a different thing than an actual community bookstore provides."


Joan was a great boss and a great mentor in the couple of years that I got to work with her. I'm not a ghost person, but you feel her spirit in this store.
Gwen Danfelt, store manager

Kager and her brother, Kevin Kager, now own the bookstore. Joan Drury died in 2020 after a remarkable lifetime of entrepreneurship and advocacy.

Light-skinned woman holding book, "Those Jordan Girls," and smiling in front of bookshelf background. She has short, greying hair.
Joan Drury, seen in 2000 at the Duluth office of the publishing company Spinsters Ink, which she was then in the process of selling. Two years later, she would found Drury Lane Books in Grand Marais.
Charles Curtis / File / Duluth News Tribune

"Mom was all about words and feminism," said Kelly Kager. "She had the feminist (publishing house) Spinsters Ink, which used to be in Duluth," part of the Building for Women.

Drury grew up in the Twin Cities suburb of Richfield, but had a connection to the North Shore that started during childhood summer escapes, said Danfelt. Norcroft, a Lutsen writing retreat for women, was among Drury's many projects focused on feminism and the literary world.

"Joan was a great boss and a great mentor in the couple of years that I got to work with her," said Danfelt, who's been with Drury Lane for seven years. "I'm not a ghost person, but you feel her spirit in this store."

On a springtime Tuesday morning, Danfelt paused to greet customers as they entered. Among them were a family with young children who needed to be coaxed away from the kids' section when it was time to leave, and a regular who asked about Danfelt's father. ("Has he given up on the Tigers yet?")

Despite the ups and downs of a seasonal tourist economy in Grand Marais, Drury Lane stays open year-round. Locals are mainstays, said Danfelt, especially during wintertime when the pace slows down and people have more time to read.

Woman holds book.
Gwen Danfelt, the store manager at Drury Lane Books, holds a book while answering a question in the shop on the shore of Lake Superior in Grand Marais on April 11.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Then, starting with a spring break influx, summer is peak season. That means Full Moon Readings around a bonfire and Saturday morning storytimes with Kevin Kager. As kids head back to school and fall colors appear, it's time to get ready for the holiday shopping rush.

All that activity doesn't leave much time for staff to enjoy the scenery. "People are like, 'Oh, you've got a great view!'" said Danfelt. "I'm like, oh, yeah, I'm looking at my email inbox."


Books on shelves.
The shelves at Drury Lane Books are packed.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

For Joan Drury, said Kelly Kager, founding the bookstore "was really about providing a service to the community: a place for people to find books that they wanted, and have events to help inform and entertain and educate people."

The building that's home to the store has a long history, explained Danfelt. "This is one of the oldest buildings in Grand Marais. When you're outside it looks like a little house, and it was built as a settler's house right around 1905." The chinked-log structure is sturdy. Despite its proximity to the lake, the basement is still dry.

Cottage bookstore.
Drury Lane Books sits on the shore of Lake Superior.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

"When the opportunity came up for that building, that was just such a perfect location, and the right time in her life," said Kager about her mother.

The structure has been home to a series of businesses since the 1960s, said Danfelt. Most recently, it was the location of Sivertson Gallery, now located a block west.

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"From the outside," said Danfelt, "we're so cute that some people assume it's a children's bookstore." In fact, it's a general-interest bookstore that's kept especially well-stocked with titles of regional interest and books by diverse voices.

Danfelt is the store's book buyer, and she has to choose carefully. With Joan Drury's background as both an author and publisher, she determined that her store would not participate in the widespread practice of returning unsold copies to publishers — who are then on the hook to refund the books' wholesale price.

"That's pretty heartbreaking for the author, and frustrating for the publisher," explained Danfelt. She admits that "I've made a few errors over the years, and we do have a 50% off rack, but in general, I've learned what people are interested in."

Postcard on shelf.
Postcards are available at Drury Lane Books.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Books on shelf.
Books recommended by the staff are stacked on an endcap.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Kelly Kager said there was never a question as to whether she and her brother would carry on their mother's legacy and continue running Drury Lane Books. "There was no other choice to be made," said Kager. "The bookstore is, we feel, an essential part of our community."


"You hear great conversations," said Danfelt about her life at Drury Lane. One couple will come in and call to each other over the tall shelves as they browse. Kids will come in, drop their digital devices, and get excited about books.

The store has a rocking chair, which was a favorite spot for Joan Drury. "She spent so much time sitting in that rocking chair that I can still kind of picture it," said Danfelt.

Customer checks out.
Drury Lane Books manager Gwen Danfelt, right, helps a customer April 11.
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Now, especially during those quiet winter days, Danfelt continued, "one person might come in by themselves, and they sit down in the rocking chair, and you're kind of like a bartender. You're here to listen and talk with them."

A bookworm is different from a barfly, though. "You get the person that wants to come and hang out at the bookstore in the middle of the day," said Danfelt. Even in a little lakeside cottage, it seems, "everybody's thinking big ideas and sharing them."

For information on Drury Lane Books, including its activities planned for National Independent Bookstore Day on April 29, see

Postcard aerial scene of Duluth
This is Northlandia: a place to bring your curiosity, because you will find curiosities. In this series, the News Tribune celebrates the region's distinctive people, places and history. Discover the extraordinary stories that you just might miss if you're not in the right place, at the right time, ready to step off the beaten path with no rush to return.
Adelie Bergstrom / Duluth News Tribune

Arts and entertainment reporter Jay Gabler joined the Duluth News Tribune in 2022. His previous experience includes eight years as a digital producer at The Current (Minnesota Public Radio), four years as theater critic at Minneapolis alt-weekly City Pages, and six years as arts editor at the Twin Cities Daily Planet. He's a co-founder of pop culture and creative writing blog The Tangential; he's also a member of the National Book Critics Circle and the Minnesota Film Critics Alliance. You can reach him at or 218-279-5536.
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