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Customers took a double-take as they looked at row after row of neat nearly floor-to-ceiling shelves extended out seemingly into infinity.

One family, at first worried the book store had closed, said the glow from the lights brought them to the new site reminding them of a Thomas Kincade painting. It helps that Emily’s Used Books move, while daunting because of the massive book inventory, at least wasn’t far. The bookstore moved just a few yards from its former building along Highway 371 near Brainerd International Raceway and into the former Raceway Liquor store.

The beer cave is now the book cave.

And every now and then a car pulls up only to have the occupants visible shock at the door and then quick exit as they continue their quest for a beverage. But, had they ventured inside, they may have discovered a book about micro brewery.

“We’re not just a paperback book store,” said owner Bob Beltran. “But we’ve got a lot of them.”

With 80,000 books inside the store, the subject matter is immense. Thursday night there were requests for popular contemporary fiction and philosophy. The bookcases, which give the store a feeling of library stacks, contain hardcover and paperback books. Subjects range from world history to cookbooks, children’s books to westerns.

Sharon and Bob Beltran worked to basically gut the old liquor store. They built 75 wooden bookcases to add to the 158 they already had. The store expanded from 1,700 square feet to 4,700. With the move, there is now greater room to display the books. Classics, previously less prominent, have become a solid seller.

“It’s huge,” said customer Kristen Wittwer, a Brainerd resident who teaches in Pequot Lakes. Thursday was her first time in the new store. “I’m an English teacher so I’m in heaven. I love the new store.”

The new store also includes remnants of the beginning of Emily’s Used Books. The Beltrans opened the store in 2005, naming it after their daughter. The business, which was one of several shops in a building along Highway 371, survived after the structure was destroyed in August of 2007. A fast-moving thunderstorm brought 60-mph straight-line winds to the lakes area and blew the building down. The Beltrans later relocated near BIR and settled in along a curve in the highway. This, Sharon Beltran said, is the last move. Barn wood salvaged from the storm-ravaged building is now the check-out counter. Post cards and a photo of Teddy Roosevelt are displayed there in an homage to Bob Beltran’s roots in Bismarck, N.D.

Beltran, who retired from the Marine Corps after 24 years and two tours in Iraq, began selling books he collected as a hobby. After leaving the military life, the family relocated to Brainerd and the book store was born.

“I guess I got a love of books from my dad,” Beltran said.

His book collection grew from a gift of a Louis L’Amour novel in the summer before his 10th grade year. It was the “Guns of the Timberland.”

“I’ve been reading ever since,” he said.

Beltran began searching for L’Amour hardcover books. He has signed first editions of his favorite author. The search for those hardcovers led to a much larger collection with numerous authors. Eventually it grew to what amounted to his own library of books with 9,000 volumes.

“I took my collection and turned it into a book store,” he said. “I still collect Louis L’Amour. I re-read them. I tell people he’s the one that got me into this mess.”

Transforming the liquor store into the book store was a five-week test of endurance, Beltran said. They put in new carpet and made sure each aisle was well-lit. “We have transformed this place.”

A loft is being designed for art and music collections. Sharon Beltran said the store provides a quiet get-away for people. The shelves have a large selection of books on American history, different states, trains and numerous subjects. Sharon Beltran said the books they carry are often ones that aren’t easily found in stores that carry new books and Emily’s Used Books provides an option besides searching for those books online. With the book store a customer can browse the shelves and run into a book they may never have discovered via a search engine and computer.

A cribbage game has been known to run at a little table by a front window.

Patrons are invited to bring in a photo of themselves or loved one who served in the military to be part of a wall display honoring veterans. A photo of McGregor’s Dale Wayrynen, 101st Airborne Division and decorated with the Congressional Medal of Honor, is the first on the wall. Wayrynen gave his life to save his fellow soldiers in Vietnam. It was 1967. He was 20.

“We’ll honor the military that way,” Bob Beltran said of the wall, adding he hope those photos will be so numerous they cover walls throughout the store.

RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at renee.richardson@ or 855-5852.

Renee Richardson
Richardson is a Pacelli High School graduate from Austin, Minn., who earned an applied science degree from the University of Minnesota, Waseca, with an emphasis in horse management. She worked extensively in the resort industry. She received an associate’s degree from Central Lakes College, where she was editor of the Westbank Journal student newspaper, as well as a summer intern at the Dispatch. She graduated from St. Cloud State University summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications and interned at the St. Cloud Times covering business while attending SCSU. She's been with the Brainerd Dispatch since 1996.
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