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Down But Not Out: The Future of Uncle Hugo’s

By CARZ NELSON

Don Blyly might reopen the Uncles. 

During the George Floyd uprising, twin retailers Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction and Uncle Edgar’s Mystery Bookstores were burned to the ground. The loss of these neighborhood institutions was deeply felt. Hugo’s is the oldest science fiction bookstore in the country; its importance to the science fiction community can’t be overstated. The two stores, known collectively as the Uncles, routinely attracted customers from all over the Upper Midwest.

Blyly started Uncle Hugo’s in 1974; the original location was at Fourth and Franklin Avenues. The companion store, Edgar’s, opened in 1980. The bookstores relocated to 2864 Chicago Avenue in 1984; they were fixtures in the Phillips neighborhood for 36 years.

Deciding whether to reopen the stores won’t be easy. At 70 years young, many assumed owner Don Blyly would retire from retail business after the fire. Such assumptions are premature, however. It takes a lot of drive to start over from nothing, but Blyly seems to be equal to whatever tasks he sets himself.


Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction and Uncle Edgar’s
Mystery Bookstores 2864 Chicago Ave. after the
Fire (photo by Uncle Hugo’s Bookstore)

He admits that he has a knack for bouncing back from adversity, “I’ve noticed that I seem to have more resilience than most other people and I’ve wondered why. Partly it is stubbornness. Partly it is because the more of a track record you have at overcoming previous difficulties, the more confidence you have of overcoming the latest difficulty.”

Blyly says the city has a lot to answer for when it comes to the uprising, “Back in 2015 the Department of Justice made recommendations for reforming the Minneapolis Police, but the City Council has done nothing to implement those recommendations. The judge in the trial of Mohamed Noor for the murder of Justine Damond raised issues about problems with the Minneapolis Police that have never been addressed.” 

Since the uprising and subsequent looting, he’s concerned that many people think the area is too dangerous to visit, “About half of my sales were to people outside the I-495/ I-694 loop, and they are now scared to come to Minneapolis to spend their money. Customers in South Minneapolis told me that they would be scared to return to the Uncles if I rebuilt in the old location. The city is going to have to actually work on fixing the problems with the Minneapolis Police instead making ‘defunding’ speeches before people will feel comfortable about spending their money in Minneapolis again.”

Although the last year has been an ordeal, there have been bright spots along the way. With the help of a good lawyer, Blyly’s experience with his insurance company was relatively positive. “There were a few small disagreements that we eventually worked out, but I was very happy about how the claim was handled.” 

When asked if there was anyone he wanted to give a shout out to for their assistance, he said, “The demolition company I hired, Bolander, was very helpful. And Lake Street Council was very helpful.”

Blyly keeps a close eye on the local real estate market, scouting potential locations for a new storefront. He’s been looking primarily in Richfield and South Minneapolis. As of this writing, he hasn’t yet found a suitable place.

Uncle Hugo’s in better days (photo credit: Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore)

Blyly’s daughter, Mina Blyly-Strauss, is working on The Uncles Story Project, a collection of memories about the Uncles. People are encouraged to contribute their stories at the website www.unclesstoriesproject.weebly.com/.

Items from Don Blyly’s personal library are available at Abebooks.com listed under Uncle Hugo’s SF/Uncle Edgar’s Mystery. Nearly 2000 items are up for sale. 

Head over to GoFundMe.com to see the fundraiser that’s been started for the stores. The name of the campaign is Official Help Save Uncle Hugo’s Fund, but you can also try typing Hugo in the search bar and finding it that way. 

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3 Responses to “Down But Not Out: The Future of Uncle Hugo’s”

  1. joseph smith says:

    Do you sell books online? Ther are a few i would like to buy and i would rather buy from you than for a big online site if you have them. I miss your store, hope you get another one.
    Thank you, Joe Smith

  2. Kathleen J Norvell says:

    Let me know if after the bookstores reopen, they need books. I have mysteries and my friends have sci fi books we’d be happy to donate.

    Thanks.

  3. Joan Kuzma Costello says:

    Our children are in the never ending process of “moving out.” Right now they and we the parents are slowly reducing the number of books in our lives. I am seeing science fiction and mystery books making their way into the “book’s-to-let-go” boxes. I have thought of donating them to The Uncles if the store reopens. Where are you at in that decision? Or do I have a huge garage sale? Sigh!

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