Beatnik Books thriving in historic district

From quiet moments with customers to slam poetry, store finds cause to expand
By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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3rd Saturday Art Walks gets livelier

The next 3rd Saturday Art Walk is April 20 from 7-9 p.m. The event features original art, live entertainment, free refreshments and discount deals. Event-goers can get $1 off all drinks at Shady Coffee and Tea, $1 off draft beer at The Boxing Donkey Irish Pub, $1 off all beers at Bar 101 and 20 percent off books at Beatnik Books. Some of the main showrooms for art include Blue Line Gallery, the Maidu Museum, the Downtown Library, Sassy’s Salon and Spa and II:XIV Boutique and Salon.

The 3rd Saturday Art Walk also includes a photo contest, which involves photography buffs capturing images from different art walk venues on the same given night. Photos can be of patrons, artists, live acts, food action or any other element of the art walk. Submissions must be emailed to Another highlight of the event has been its scavenger hunt, in which hunters can win a big prize. Clues can be found the night of the event at

A 19th century poet once said that great writing is meant to “sound the depths of human nature,” and Chelsea Johnson and Laura Hillen believe Old Town Roseville’s inspired architecture and rare collection of personalities makes it a prime spot to help book-lovers take that journey.

The two women are the faces behind Beatnik Books. They’re also the driving force behind an infusion of energy into the city’s 3rd Saturday Art Walk.

Johnson has been wandering through the landscape of books for as long as she can remember. One of her earliest inspirations was Gertrude Chandler Warner’s collection of threadbare little survivor tales known as “The Boxcar Children” series.

“For me, loving books really started with ‘Boxcar Children,’” Johnson recalled. “That became the span of my entire imagination through childhood.”

By the time Johnson was an English major in college, she was delving further into classic literature, especially the monumental Russian wordsmiths of the 19th and 20th centuries. Two years ago, Johnson brought the passion for deathless prose to the most historic quarter of the Roseville when she opened Beatnik Books. Hillen soon came on as manager. Hillen has a background in philosophy, a love of music and a keen eye for top talent in science fiction and fantasy writing. The two have developed a book-vetting process targeted for local lit lovers.

“We’re very selective about the books we bring in here,” Johnson said. “It’s not about store size — it’s about having an excellent selection. We’re also comfortable helping our customers discover new books in cases where they want recommendations. Basically, we find you something we think is wonderful.”

Hillen agreed, adding with a smile, “And we haven’t had a complaint yet.”

Nestled in the brickwork of Lincoln Street, Beatnik Books strives for a cozy, esoteric environment that feels worlds away from homogenous commercial zones. On average, a tome at Beatnik Books cost between $1 and $4. Records from its hand-picked vinyl collection run between $3 and $5. Johnson and Hillen have also added to the book store’s appeal by opening it up to soirées for creative-minded people: Beatnik Books hosts regular open mic nights for poets and writers and Magic the Gathering tournaments the first Sunday of every month.

“Whether it’s an open poetry mic or one of our Magic the Gathering competitions, we always have a really laid-back environment,” Hillen said. “It seems like everyone enjoys themselves because it’s relaxed and comfortable.”

Other events at Beatnik Books are geared for higher energy, such as an upcoming performance by national award-winning slam poet Jared Paul, who will be performing April 24 from 7-9 p.m.

With acts like Paul handling the mic, it’s not surprising that Beatnik Books has plans to double its store space on Lincoln Street. From Johnson’s perspective, the expansion makes sense because Old Town Roseville is bustling with creative, synergistic business personalities that believe in her vision.

“I love historic Roseville,” Johnson said. “I really wouldn’t have wanted to open this bookstore in any other place. It’s a really supportive community with a lot of small business owners who are there for each other. You wouldn’t find this many family-owned business one place in any other part of Roseville.”

In an effort to keep artistic culture surging in Old Town and downtown, Johnson and Hillen have volunteered to be the main coordinators of Roseville’s third annual Art Walk.

“While a couple of the venues are for people21 and up, the majority of the venues are family-friendly,” Johnson said. “We’ve been putting a lot of effort into the scavenger hunt, and most of the restaurants offer dinner specials while stores serve up snacks. The art walk is just great way for residents to explore businesses and venues they might not know are there.

Hillen sees another bonus.

“It’s been a very positive development for our local artists, too,” she said. “It’s hard for them to find a venue to showcase their amazing work without having to give all their profits away in the process. The art walk gives them that exposure.”

She added, “And Chelsea and I also love it because it brings together the entire community.”