Ann Arbor is home to an incredible array of independent bookstores. From comic books to antiques, this city has it all.
Since its opening in 2013, Literati has become an extremely popular bookstore among students and community members alike. It stocks a large selection of well-known and recently released fiction and poetry books on its main floor; in the basement, visitors will find collections on history, science, religion, sociology, social justice and more, while the second floor houses bargain books and a children’s section. Located just a few blocks from campus, Literati is many students’ go-to stop for newly released novels and casual reads, as well as required books for some humanities and social science courses. Literati also hosts an author speaker series and a book club, which currently remain virtual even as their storefront has opened back up for browsing.
The Dawn Treader Book Shop
Dawn Treader is a beloved, eclectic used bookstore that has been located only a block away from campus for nearly fifty years. Accommodating over 70,000 titles in one store, the space is crammed full of tightly packed bookshelves that create a cozy, homey atmosphere. You could spend an entire day at Dawn Treader, discovering new among the old. With books ranging from $0.50 to thousands of dollars and covering an entire world of subjects, Dawn Treader is a favorite among both casual readers and scholars. Manager Africa Schaumann says that’s the “best part” of Dawn Treader — the number and diversity of the people who “bring their passions with them” into the store. Fans of fantasy and science fiction will be particularly thrilled with Dawn Treader’s extensive collections of these genres, and history buffs will love the rare manuscripts on display. As Schaumann (rightly) says, “People need books … I think the experience of holding a book, reading a book, smelling a book — all of that really does something for the human spirit that isn’t entirely explainable but is definitely necessary.”
Vault of Midnight
Located in the heart of downtown Ann Arbor, Vault of Midnight is an incredibly fun store, filled with comic books, action figures and other related items. The staff is highly knowledgeable and enthusiastic about what they sell, and they are equally friendly to comic book aficionados and newbies. In addition to allowing regular browsing, Vault of Midnight also runs a Book of the Month subscription service that sends subscribers a discounted copy of the staff’s favorite book that month, and it is hosting an online comic book convention in July. As Vault of Midnight approaches its 25th anniversary and ramps its operations back up after a tough pandemic year, its owner, Curtis Sullivan, is full of optimism about the future: “I think (brick-and-mortar bookstores) are extremely vital, and I’m so confident in a good local business’s ability to stick around.” Sullivan, an Ann Arbor native, is “elated” to operate this bookstore in his hometown, a place where there’s “the college, and a vibrant local community, and just so many visitors from all over the world.” That enthusiasm is evident in all Vault of Midnight’s operations.
West Side Book Shop
When West Side Book Shop opened in 1975, only a quarter of its one room was filled with books — today, rare and used books are crammed onto shelves and stacked in piles in three different rooms. Stepping inside feels like stepping into the past, and book lovers will feel right at home in the welcoming environment the owner, Jay Platt, has cultivated. Platt, an antiquarian bookseller, has built an impressive collection and has spent 45 years bringing his passion for history onto our modern campus. Students interested in rare and antique books or the book trade can look forward to West Side’s annual antiquarian book fair in October, which has been held in the Michigan Union since 1976. When asked about the future, Jay says, “I feel like I’ve been an important part of the community … I still love it here. I’m not going to retire anytime soon.”
Crazy Wisdom Bookstore
Crazy Wisdom aims to serve “people searching for a deeper life — from spiritual development to inner peace to alternative health practices,” according to its general manager, Sarah Newland. This goal lends itself to many different genres of books: anthropology, racial justice, self-healing and self-help, memoir, history, religion and more. Although based on spirituality, even those who do not consider themselves spiritual or who adhere to a specific religion can find something beneficial (or at least interesting) here. And, as Newland says, visiting Crazy Wisdom is “an experience of peace, of stillness,” created by its calm atmosphere and kind staff. For those looking to bring some of that back home with them, Crazy Wisdom also sells incense, candles, art, jewelry, aromatherapy, yoga supplies, tarot cards, tea and more.
Motte & Bailey Booksellers
Motte & Bailey is a rare and used bookstore with over 10,000 titles in its collection. Although it focuses on American and European history, children’s books, books about books and scholarly titles, Motte & Bailey’s shelves are lined with books on all subjects. Especially for students interested in history, Motte & Bailey is a wonderful place to browse, both online and in-person. The staff members are extremely knowledgeable about their own historical specialties and the books Motte & Bailey has available for sale; they are both willing and able to give helpful recommendations and advice to visitors.
Nicola’s Books is well worth the 25-minute bus ride it takes to get there. A large space filled with displays, this bookstore is a haven for anyone looking for new releases or popular fiction. It also houses a wide variety of other genres and a sizable selection of gifts, from Studio Ghibli trinkets to games to stationery. Furthermore, Nicola’s Books’ website has an extensive catalog of books that aren’t on its shelves, but that it can order for you with a quick turnaround. Overall, this is an excellent independent bookstore for those who want a large selection that’s comparable to many bookstore chains. It also hosts frequent author talks and serves, in non-pandemic times, as a community event space.
Garrett Scott, Bookseller
Garrett Scott has operated as a specialist in uncommon printed and manuscript material since 1998, working alongside librarians and curators to develop collections on “American social thought, popular medicine, unpopular literature, eccentric entertainments, interesting religious material, American imprints, and outsider authors of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.” Rather than having a storefront for browsing, Garrett Scott sells rare books (ranging in price from $8 to $5,000) through its website, catalogs, book fair appearances and direct buyer requests. Although not your typical bookstore for everyday reading material, Garrett Scott can be a good resource for academic research and passion projects.
Our Lady of Grace Bookstore
Our Lady of Grace Bookstore is a Catholic bookstore that aims to serve Ann Arbor’s Catholic community. It sells traditional and current Catholic books (including Missals and study books), gifts, art, CDs, movies, religious paraphernalia and Bibles. It also supports Catholic faith groups, Catholic education and other community programs.
Honorable Mention: Black Stone Bookstore & Cultural Center
Black Stone Bookstore & Cultural Center, while not technically in Ann Arbor, also deserves a place on this list. Located in the neighboring city of Ypsilanti, Black Stone aims to bring “awareness to true African American literature and culture” and to create a space in which “journalists, writers, professors, students and bona fide lovers of African American literature and culture will find a spot of solace in the heart.” To that end, Black Stone hosts a variety of community events, including author readings, book clubs, poetry nights and children storytimes. And in addition to African American literature, Black Stone also sells clothing, oils, incense, jewelry, beauty products and more.
Daily Arts writer Brenna Goss can be reached at email@example.com.