A risk worth taking: Lowertown’s Play by Play Theatre Bookstore and Opening Night Gifts to close


A common exercise in a beginning acting class is the trust fall. The acting student closes his or her eyes and falls backward, to be caught by other actors. The point of the exercise is to strengthen the willingness for risk-taking on the part of the person falling, and trust among the participants. In the fall of 2009, Kelly Schaub, owner of Play by Play Theatre Bookstore and Opening Night Gifts, took a trust fall. She made a go at her dream of opening a theater bookstore, in hopes that the vibrant theater community of the Twin Cities would embrace the idea. While many were enthusiastic about her endeavor, ultimately, not enough people bought books at the store, which soon will be closing its doors.

About 10 years ago, Schaub started talking to people about how great it would be if this town had a theater bookstore. Five years later, no one had done it. Schaub began doing some research. She went to bookselling school and put together a business plan. She opened the store in 2009 on Selby Avenue in St. Paul, and just a couple months later the landlord of the building sold the property, and Play by Play lost its storefront. Schaub re-opened in Lowertown this past November, but unfortunately, her business wasn’t able to make a profit, and Schaub announced earlier this month that the bookstore will be closing.

“Nobody predicted this economy,” Schaub said, “or how big and all-encompassing Amazon would be.” Schaub never went the route of selling books online—she felt she couldn’t compete, because she couldn’t do free shipping. But more than that, she wanted Play by Play to be a place of community, where people could browse the shelves and talk to each other.

“I’m very proud of what the book store achieved,” Schaub said. “It did a lot. I’m proud of our events, and a lot of moments that made it worthwhile. I’m happy that I did it.” Some of the events Play by Play hosted included a monthly short play reading contest, which was very popular, and allowed an opportunity for theater folks to meet new people and make connections, or maybe even land an audition. She also hosted a short play contest during the St. Paul Art Crawl: the winner got $100. When Schaub gave the winner his award, he said that her contest was classy in comparison to other play contests he had participated in. “To get that kind of feedback was kind of nice,” Schaub said.

Despite the fact that most people who came into the store gave Schaub great feedback, the fact remained that she didn’t have enough customers. “A lot of people that said what a great idea it was, and how happy the were that I was doing this, they never stepped foot in the store,” Schaub said. To see that made me feel like there were empty promises,” Schaub said.

Schaub has known for months that she was going to have to close, so it was a relief to finally let it out in the open. “I had to keep it to myself,” she said, “that was the hard part. As soon as I let the word out, that was a huge relief to me.”

Schaub wanted to keep the store’s closing under wraps, because she knew if people knew there would be a going-out-of-business sale coming up, they would stop in for a regular sale. When people asked her when the next reading series was going to be, she would have to just say that she hadn’t nailed down the date yet.

Once she finally let the cat out of the bag, people were very supportive, Schaub said. “They were happy that I gave it a try.” And when it comes right down to it, Schaub is the most proud that she gave her dream a go. “It doesn’t feel like a failure,” she said. “Failure is when you don’t try something. I did this and I tried it for as long as I feasibly cold support it.”

Schaub plans to stay open as long as there’s still traffic and as long as there’s a reasonable selection. After that, she’s not sure what she’ll do. “It might be a nice time to take a break from theater,” she said. “Maybe get a real job and build my savings again.”

Coverage of issues and events that affect Central Corridor neighborhoods and communities is funded in part by a grant from Central Corridor Collaborative.