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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 31.0° F  Overcast
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Booked for Murder gets a new owner, new location and new name, Mystery To Me
Berg wants the store to have a "community feel," offering wifi and space for events like author readings and writing workshops.
Berg wants the store to have a "community feel," offering wifi and space for events like author readings and writing workshops.

The long-running mystery-centric bookstore Booked for Murder has found a buyer.

With Booked for Murder owner Sara Barnes moving back to her hometown in Minnesota, UW-Madison Vice Provost for Enrollment Management Joanne Berg has purchased the business and will reopen it June 15 under the name Mystery to Me.

Berg, 57, will soon be wrapping up a long career in academia, but she calls it "rewiring, not retiring." As she takes over Barnes' work of guiding Madison readers through the unbelievably specific and quirky world of mystery novels, she'll also move the business from its current strip-mall environs on University Avenue to a space at 1863 Monroe St. The new store does not have a website yet, but has a Twitter account, @MysterytomeT.

In addition to following in a tradition of pun-tastically named mystery bookshops (see Arizona's Poison Pen or Houston's Murder by the Book), the name Mystery to Me acknowledges the bold step of opening such an establishment.

"The mystery to me is the future of bookstores, so I want to have an environment that not only has that old-fashioned parlor feel of a bookstore, but is also engaging in technology," Berg says.

As a longtime resident of the neighborhood, she says, "I've always wanted to have a bookstore on Monroe Street, whether or not it'd be mine."

The 1,500-square-foot space previously housed a Lululemon store, and as of now, Berg says, it's "a pretty raw space." She's already at work on carpeting, wiring and painting.

Despite its many charms -- especially Barnes' warm personality and gallows humor -- Booked for Murder has long needed a shove into the future. Berg has some ideas for that.

She wants the store to have a "community feel," offering wifi and space for events like author readings and writing workshops. She's even trying to line up some authors to appear at the store via Skype or podcasting. She says local and regional authors have already been reaching out to her -- hey, anything to address Madison's bizarre lack of prominent author events.

While maintaining a deep focus on mystery, Berg will try to sell some books outside the genre, in an acknowledgment that mystery readers still enjoy other stuff. She also plans to tap into kids and young adults, saying there are a lot of young-adult mystery readers out there.

Of course, it will take a while to determine whether Berg can make such a niche business thrive in a pricey commercial district. She doesn't come off as your average retiree indulging naively in a small-business fantasy -- she acknowledges that she still has a lot to learn about running a bookshop. And if she's proactive about finding new customers and new ways to present her wares, that already puts her ahead of many other entrepreneurs in town. Whatever happens, she's confident that she can bring a fresh perspective to the business.

"I can step in and not have the baggage of the past," Berg says, "and sort of bring forward some of the stuff we love about bookstores."

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