2021 Evy Nordley Spotlight #4: Grand Rapids

Grand Rapids Area Library is among the handful in Minnesota that boasts a permanent Friends bookstore on site. Ordinarily, this year-round stream of income is the Friends’ “golden goose,” with proceeds bankrolling much of what the organization does for the Library. When the pandemic brought an abrupt and protracted halt to sales, however, the board realized they needed to think beyond their comfort zone.  

Ironically, the Friends did not have to travel or look far for their Big Idea; all they had to do was step outside the Library. Grand Rapids Area Library’s exterior façade is graced by a massive mural of a chickadee. It is one of several naturescapes by Carlton County artist Adam Swanson that can be found in and around Grand Rapids.

In January 2020, a Friends task force approached Mr. Swanson about profiling his iconic work on a series of Friends-branded notecards. He agreed to this novel partnership, and under generous terms; for every $20 box that the group sold, he would take a $4.50 commission.

Even with this green light, the Friends faced a number of choices and challenges. First, which of the decorated artist’s works would they profile? They ultimately decided to double down on the Northland theme, which is a favorite of Swanson’s. In addition to the famous library chickadee, each packet of eight cards features a wolf, black bear, moose, and other animals native to the area.

When it came to printing, organizers opted to keep their money local and partner with a Grand Rapids vendor. They recouped some of these higher production costs by securing clever in-kind donations, such as transparent corsage bags from the local florist to “box” the card sets.

Promotion and distribution proved the biggest puzzlers of all, given the Library’s prolonged closure. As a workaround, volunteers secured permission to conduct sales out of the building’s drive-up window. They then spread the news as widely as possible, including with a front-page mention in the Grand Rapids Herald-Review.

Grand Rapids Area Friends hit their production targets in time to roll out the new fundraiser for the 2020 holiday season. In all, they netted an impressive $2,500 – not bad for a “Plan B” fundraiser. They hope to build on this debut effort in advance of the 2021 holiday season.