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By Elizabeth Cleveland, Midwest Sales Representative

Hello! As a continuation of this series in our newsletter, I’m thrilled to be writing from Minneapolis during a period in history we will look back on as “the one when we were (nearly) set free.” What a year! 2020 brought many challenges for sure, but also a few silver linings and valuable lessons. Nonetheless, seeing it in the rearview mirror is a sight to behold.

Downtown Minneapolis from a solar-powered riverboat ride

Friesens’ Midwest territory is comprised of MN, WI, ND, SD, IA, NE, and MO, and it holds claim as Friesens’ first company-based territory in the US. It started by dipping a toe into Minnesota and expanding from there to what has grown into a nationwide ten-person sales team, and accounts for at least half of the company’s division sales. I’m proud to call myself the employee-owner of a region with this auspicious beginning!

My role began at the end of 2005 when I became the second ever US sales employee for Friesens.. With it came my first and so far only, WFH format (we all know this acronym by now, but just in case: Work From Home). So, while most of the world had to punt quickly in March of 2020, managing all new ways of working through a pandemic, my home office life continued as per usual.

Geographically, the territory is fairly diverse, offering a Great Lake (the largest of the lot!), plenty of open fields for farming, the Driftless Area, Mount Rushmore, a very famous arch (the “Gateway to the West”). and the burbling beginnings of Ole Miss, to name a few. Almost as diverse as the customer base here; Minnesota alone hosts many well-regarded players in the publishing landscape. Roughly ten of those are nonprofits, with the three having the unique distinction of literary nonprofit presses, which (last I checked) is the highest concentration in the nation. The territory as a whole boasts a university press in all but one of the states. It includes the distinguished Gallup Inc. with its own press, for whom we’ve printed many, many books. And Wisconsin is the birthplace of the Little Free Library! The evidence of value and quality placed on good books is immeasurable in this sleeper of a sales region.

Picture taken from the car when Doug Symington and I drove to St. Pierre, SD to visit the South Dakota Historical Society

Back to the silver linings gifted to us by 2020: at the top of our list is that the printed book is back, and it is the “new black!” This is what I tell everyone in my life who, at one time when e-books were all anyone talked about, with a sad expression asked if I would have a job much longer. If anyone reading this is trying to buy printing these days, you know how hard it is to get anything quickly. Our industry is experiencing a boom like nothing I’ve seen since my start in the nineties, and the pandemic played no small part in this resurgence. With nowhere to go for an unforeseen timeframe, the general public turned to books as one of the rediscovered “stay at home” forms of entertainment.

North Shore of Lake Superior

On a more personal note regarding the last year, my home/office is located very close to Lake Street in Minneapolis. The protests and civil unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s death stirred emotions in me I never imagined I’d experience as a privileged American. The mixed bag of empathy, fear and surge of “mama bear” protectiveness of my city and neighborhood was a combination of emotions I couldn’t have anticipated. For a week or so, my neighbors and I found ourselves pulling out hoses and pulling in anything flammable. With city-mandated curfews, there I was, dashing to the store for groceries only to keep driving until I found one open, then realizing I needed gas, but no open gas station was in sight – a stark perspective on how cushy and safe “normal life” usually is, even a few months into a pandemic lockdown. How does this all tie in to my territory? Minneapolis is on the global map in the wake of that event, and for good reasons that need a spotlight. I have no doubt the wealth of quality book publishing here and in the greater Midwest territory will honor all that needs to be shared to help inform and educate, and I will always feel blessed and proud to play any small role in that.

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