On the west side of Main Street, between Washington and Huron streets, subtly tucked between The Gown Shop and Vinology is a slice of Ann Arbor-brand heaven: Crazy Wisdom Bookstore & Tearoom. Husband and wife Bill Zirinsky and Ruth Schekter have owned Crazy Wisdom for nearly three decades (since 1989). After buying and renovating the store’s current building 20 years ago, today’s Crazy Wisdom opened in the spring of 1999.
Through the wood-framed doors, the familiar smell of incense lulls customers into a sense of comfortability as they browse Crazy Wisdom’s 14,000 books, not to mention the store’s more spiritual offers: chakras, sage, candles and tarot cards. Despite feeling like a step-sister store to Portlandia’s “Feminist Bookstore,” Crazy Wisdom isn’t nearly as niche as it may sound. Books are organized into 160 specialized sections pertaining to psychology, spirituality, holistic health and sustainability, but even these categories don’t do justice to the sheer range of information available. Whether you are making an edible, conjuring a spirit or researching a paper, Crazy Wisdom has books for you.
Its 14,000 books aside, Crazy Wisdom is so much more than simply a book store. As part of the renovations in 1999, a tea room was added on the second floor, which plays host to studying students, local readers and, for the adventurous, a regular schedule of psychics, tarot card readers and other intuitives.
“The Readers add something fun and interesting to the overall experience at Crazy Wisdom. But it is a small part of what we do. We host live music every Friday and Saturday evening. We have two Poetry Evenings a month, one Storytelling Night a month and we also rent our Community Room for classes, events and workshops over 250 times each year,” Zirinsky wrote in an email to The Michigan Daily. “We also host Fairy Teas for kids. And we publish the leading conscious living magazine in the region. Recent issues of the magazine have been 128 pages, with a glossy cover, with over 80 advertisers, and 25 articles, interviews and editorial features per issue. We print 11,000 copies of the magazine, and distribute it all over town. It is a major undertaking, and we’re proud of the role the magazine plays in building community.”
The tea room serves over 100 flavors of green, black oolong and herbal teas, accompanied by a menu of light snacks.
“We do 32,000 customer transactions each year in the bookstore and tea room,” Zirinsky wrote. “So, the Readers represent a very small part of what we do. Still, we love them, and value them, and so do many of our customers!”
The tea room’s intuitive offerings haven’t changed much since they began back in 1999. Four of Crazy Wisdom’s eight readers have been there, on and off, for 15 years. Zirinsky, who has intuitive readings about every year or two, enjoys them.
“I personally like our Readers. They are exceptionally right-brained. It’s like herding cats. That’s part of why they are good at what they do. They don’t think or process or integrate information the way most of the rest of us do,” Zirinsky wrote. “Most of them have had certain psychic gifts since childhood, and in many instances it was a long journey for them to trust their intuitive gifts, and then to begin to be comfortable sharing their often non-linear abilities with others.”
Crazy Wisdom’s intuitives charge $1.50 per minute for a reading, payable only in cash. Very occasionally, on Saturdays, there will be lines for a reading, according to Zirinsky.
“We have many, many return customers, who enjoy and value the revelations or insights they gain from the Readers. After all, our Readers are well-educated, and a number of them have been psychologists, teachers and therapists. They bring intuitive gifts, and they are most certainly NOT ‘fortune-tellers.’ We also have many people who just try it on a ‘lark’ and don’t necessarily try it again,” Zirinsky wrote. “And many people in the region trust us, and correctly assume we’ve vetted and approved the Intuitives and Psychics who work at Crazy Wisdom, and so they expect that our Readers will be sincere, thoughtful and ‘legitimate’ rather than ‘fortune tellers.’”
This Halloweek’s weather has been ideal for staying in and watching scary movies. It wasn’t ideal for walking to Main Street on a mission to get my cards read, but alas, my deadline is looming and I’m eager enough to muster the energy required to put on jeans, boots and a raincoat to make the six-block journey to Crazy Wisdom.
And in a short 10-minutes the warm, cozy solace of my bed is exchanged for the equally warm and cozy solace of Crazy Wisdom. After scanning the seemingly endless shelves of books and a few cases of crystals, I make my way upstairs to the tea room. The bookstore was quiet in comparison to the street and while the tea room didn’t get quieter, the air felt still: no one working at the bar, a sign signaled they’d be back shortly, and a handful of people working and reading silently in the sitting area.
After failing to locate the tarot card reader in the tea room, I accept the idea I misread the schedule and head back to the first floor to peruse for anything that might be helpful in the seance I’m hosting later tonight. (More on that here.)
Crazy Wisdom’s first floor is similar to a railroad-style apartment — it continues back further than expected. So much so that after working my way toward the back, collecting a small bag of protective sea salt and a blue candle that eases communications between the mortal and immortal worlds, I spot a sign hanging by the emergency exit ushering customers into the store’s farthest-back nook for intuitive readings.
As I approach, I see a woman is already seated having her cards read, so I break off to the side, and from behind a shelf I listen momentarily to her reading. It feels so personal, but from the other side of the shelf, my eavesdropping feels especially invasive. With the thought that the reader could possibly feel my presence on the other side of the shelf, I usher myself away and linger in the dark magic section while I wait for my turn.
Sitting in a corner, reading up on best practices to conjure a demon, I spot the brunette from the nook heading out, taking another sip of her boxed water. Luckily, the reader, Kathy Bloch, has time for one more.
Ten minutes. Fifteen dollars. Three cards: one for my recent past, one for my present, one for the near future.
From someone who genuinely enjoys readings (psychic, card, aura, etc.), I wasn’t feeling the idea of having my past, present and future laid out in front of me this particular day; I was saving that for my therapy appointment on Thursday. Additionally, being in the presence of an intuitive is less daunting when you carry the cynicism of a nonbeliever, but for me, sitting across from a reader is intimidating as I try to keep my self-awareness on pace with their worldly awareness.
The typical archetype of individuals who receive readings is someone who leaps onto a reader’s grand, general statements and offers specific details about how a statement applies to their life, effectively giving readers more information to customize their reading, thus forming a type of self-fulfilling prophecy. But for those rolling their eyes at home, if they’ve made it this far, I kept my side of our conversation to nods, chuckles and an occasional yes.
Bloch had no trouble filling up the entirety of my 10 minutes with energetic, logical and, above all, applicable reading of the three cards I pulled from her deck. Her ending note conveyed the overall idea of her readings: “Stay with the boat and all will be provided.”
Bloch has been reading at Crazy Wisdom for two years, but it’s not her first time working as a reader. Having studied the cards since 1980, she began doing readings in 1995. Originally reading at Crazy Wisdom years ago, she took a break after her brother died of cancer only to come back after an accidental run-in with Zirinsky.
“When one of our Readers tunes in well, I believe the customer can gain a few thought-provoking and meaningful insights into one’s life and relationships,” Zirinsky wrote.
I’d have to agree.