Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore was the oldest independent science fiction bookstore in America, founded in 1974 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. On May 30 the store was attacked by one or more arsonist, and burned to the ground. The event occurred during the ongoing riots which erupted following the murder of George Floyd by police.
It was at about 3:30 on the morning of May 29th or May 30th (we’re uncertain) that the owner of the famed bookstore, Don Blyly, received a call from the store’s security company that something was amiss. When he arrived, he found the store engulfed in flames. Both Uncle Hugo’s and the adjacent store Uncle Edgar’s Mystery Bookstore burned to the ground.
Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore opened for business on March 2nd 1974 in Minnesota. Its companion shop, Uncle Edgar’s Mystery Bookstore opened for business in a nearby location in 1980. Both stores then moved to a shared location in 1984.
Owner of the now destroyed indie bookstore, Don Blyly, said on Facebook via the Uncle Hugo’s official page:
“There was a call from the security company around 3:30 this morning that the motion detector was showing somebody in the building. I threw on clothes and headed over there. When I was 2 blocks away I received a call that the smoke detectors were showing smoke in the store. Every single building on both sides of Chicago was blazing and dozens of people dancing around.
As I pulled into the dentist’s lot I could see that flames were leaping out the front windows of the Uncles. It looked to me like they had broken every window on the front of the Uncles and then squirted accelerant through each broken window.
It looked hopeless to me, but I went around to the back door to see if I could get to a fire extinguisher. As soon as I opened the back door a wave of very thick black smoke poured out, so I quickly closed the door again. The dentist’s building was not showing any flames and the garage door was open, so I went in to see if I could save it.
There is a door from the garage into a break room, and there was almost no smoke in the break room. There is a second door from the break room into the main clinic.
When I opened that door I couldn’t see a fire, but the smoke came pouring into the break room, so I quickly closed that door and headed back to the car. Some of the rioters were busy breaking every pane of glass in the transit hub.
The former Sheraton did not seem to be on fire yet, and there were guests who were staying there. It looked like somebody may have broken a window on the first floor along Chicago and started a fire, but it could have just been a reflection of the flames from the Uncles. I didn’t notice anything going on yet at the Global Marketplace, but the rioters were headed in that direction.
There is no way a mere fire could bring that building down, but it could wipe out all of those businesses, and there are hundreds of people who live above the Global Marketplace who could be trapped by the smoke. Since Chicago Ave. was full of dancing rioters, broken glass, and flaming debris, I went down the alley and took Lake St. home. There were blocks of Lake St. where every building was blazing. No sign of any cops, national guard troops, or any help.
I’m pretty sure the insurance policy excludes damage from a civil insurrection, so I suspect I won’t get a cent for either the building or the contents.
I am starting to investigate the best crowdsourcing to rebuild. Any donations – well – I’ll need to find where to send them. Stay safe – we love you all!”
As of this moment, there are no official fundraising efforts, and there was an official statement from Uncle Hugo’s to this affect (above). This apparently did not stop Alexi Vandenberg of New Jersey from attempting to set up a fundraiser on GoFundMe without any apparent cooperation or clearance from Blyly. Blyly has made it clear that the fundraiser is not connected to Uncle Hugo’s and not authorized by Blyly. The campaign is currently marked as “PAUSED”, and is under investigation by GoFundMe’s Trust and Safety Team.
The campaign is actively promoting itself as the “only official fundraiser” for Uncle Hugo’s, despite the fact that Uncle Hugo’s is sternly warning people NOT to send money to this GoFundMe campaign.
From the Uncle Hugo’s / Uncle Edgar’s Facebook page comes another statement regarding this, which says, in part:
Friends – your love and support are overwhelming. We have received comments from all over the world. Right now, there is a ton of work to be done before we can even think about rebuilding – it will happen – but the legalities and insurance need to be dealt with first. We hope to move forward at the same location.
To be clear – there is NO sanctioned fundraising at this time. There is much to be done first. There’s also nowhere to store books, so hang on to your funds, hang on to your books, and keep watching this space for updates. They may not be often, but when we get the go ahead, it will be pushed from here. Please DO NOT send any money to us at this time – we’re not ready yet.
GoFundMe has concluded its investigation, and the control of the unsanctioned fundraiser on GoFundMe has now been transferred from Alexi Vandenberg to the son of the owner of Uncle Hugo’s. Donations to the restoration of the famed bookstore are now guaranteed to go to someone actually connected with the store.