Shaman Drum Bookshop to close at the end of the month

BY LARA ZADE
Managing News Editor
Published June 10, 2009

After 29 years of business, local bookstore Shaman Drum Bookshop will officially close its doors on June 30 after suffering from financial hardship in the past year.

Sam Wolson/Daily
Shaman Drum employee, Sue Sielicki, cashes out Niccola Parravano, a patron of the shop since its opening nearly 30 years ago, during Shaman Drum's liquidation sale.

In a written statement posted on the shop’s website Tuesday, Owner Karl Pohrt wrote that after consulting with his accountant and business manager, it was clear to him that the bookstore was no longer a “sustainable business,” despite a “first rate staff, a fiercely loyal core of customers, a very decent landlord and (his) own commitment to the community of arts and letters in Ann Arbor.”

“The hardest thing about this is losing the comrades that I’ve worked with over the years,” Pohrt said in an interview Friday.

He also wrote that Ann Arbor “continues to be an excellent book town” and that remaining independent bookstores need residents’ support.

Pohrt wrote in an open letter printed in The Ann Arbor Chronicle on Feb. 17 that Shaman Drum started losing money in September due to “customers migrating to the Internet coupled with the frightening economic crisis.”

In a Feb. 19 Michigan Daily article, Pohrt said that those two reasons, along with the falling popularity of books, “foretell the fate of the already suffering independent booksellers.”

Pohrt said in the same article that textbook sales in particular have been declining at Shaman Drum as more students buy their books online through such outlets as the UBook program, which is an online book exchange that encourages professors to post their required reading lists on CTools. Students can then buy, sell and trade books online through an integrated exchange system at cheaper prices.

“I don’t think this is a bad policy, but in effect what it does is it’s going to drive out all of the businesses around the University that specialize in textbooks,” Pohrt said Friday.

He added that the book industry is going through a digitalization revolution and that the University will be at the forefront of it.

“That’s the way that history’s tipping,” Port said, adding that the last major revolution in the literary world was the invention of the printing press.

Pohrt said that electronic books will be part of the digitalization movement, which will completely change the textbook industry.

“What’s looming on the horizon is the rise of electronic books,” he said. “I think those are going to especially impact the textbook industry.”

Though the direction of the book industry is not promising for independent booksellers, Pohrt said he was not spiteful of the new technology.

“I’m not particularly bitter about all of this,” Pohrt said, adding that he thought electronic books would be much easier for students to carry.

LSA senior Torrance Laury said he was disappointed to hear that Shaman Drum was closing.

"It's pretty disappointing to hear,” Laury said. “I bought a few books there, but I know they also sold a lot of books for leisure reading, and they've been around a long time."

LSA senior Olivia Both also lamented the closing of Shaman Drum, stating that she prefers to buy most of her books there.

"That's where I get all my books from,” Both said. “I feel like they're always so helpful there. I've always appreciated it."

In an effort to continue the legacy of his bookshop, Pohrt applied for nonprofit status with the IRS over a year ago and planned to create a center for the literary arts — called the Great Lakes Literary Arts Center — that could receive tax-deductible donations and government grants.

“The question is, ‘What does the bookshop of the future look like?’ and that’s a really interesting question,” Pohrt said. “I hope a way to explore that question is with the GLLAC.”

Pohrt said he hopes to come up with a solution to help the failing independent bookshop industry in the city within the next six months.

“I’ve done my best to be a community bookshop and a community resource, and it doesn’t work right now,” Pohrt said. “I don’t know how to fix this, but maybe I’ll have a better idea about that six months from now, or if other people are drawn to answer that with me.”

Pohrt wrote that he was grateful to have 28 good years of business out of Shaman Drum’s 29-year run and thanked the community for its support.

“I’m very grateful for the opportunity to be a bookseller in Ann Arbor,” Pohrt wrote.