Downtown Ann Arbor’s Literati Bookstore was announced as one of five finalists in Publishers Weekly’s Bookstore of the Year Award on Jan. 24.  

Literati, the corner bookstore on East Washington Street, is known for its typewriter, cobblestone wall and friendly atmosphere.

The Publishers Weekly’s Bookstore of the Year award is a tradition dating back to 1993, when the American trade magazine dedicated to publishers, literary agents, librarians and booksellers awarded their first Bookstore of the Year award.

The four other bookstores nominated this year are A Likely Story Bookstore in Sykesville, M.D., Classic Lines in Pittsburgh, hello hello books in Rockland, M.E. and Watermark Books & Café in Wichita, K.S.

According to Publishers Weekly, the winner will be announced in March and featured in the BookExpo preview edition of the magazine on May 13. The award will be presented in New York City at the Celebration of Bookselling event at BookExpo.

Ann Arbor residents Hilary and Mike Gustafson opened the bookstore in 2013 after spending time in Manhattan and Brooklyn and frequenting various bookstores. With bookstores like Borders closing throughout Ann Arbor, the Gustafsons saw a business opportunity to open a smaller community bookstore, much like the ones they saw in New York.

“It felt wrong to not have a bookstore that would cater to the community in a way that Shaman Drum did and Borders did as well,” Hilary said in a video published on Literati’s YouTube account.

Located in the heart of Ann Arbor, Literati is housed in an old, historic three-story building. Engineering sophomore Hannah Groenke said she enjoys the environment at Literati.

“The owners of the store crafted this space in order to fit a very niche population,” Groenke said.  “Compared to other bookstores, it’s a very curated space. I; it’s polished and clean, but also casual. It feels very Ann Arbor, the sort of upper-class intellectual vibe. It’s different than other bookstores.”

Rackham student Kira Tomenchok, a frequent visitor of Literati Coffee, the café on the top floor, said it’ is the workspace that draws her in.

“I first came here because of the bookstore on the first floor, but then when I discovered the café on the top floor, I found that it was much more of a relaxed setting than a library,” Tomenchok said. “I like spending my time here because it’s a lot happier than people stressing out at a library. It’s a great place to do work.

With nonfiction books on the lower level, fiction and poetry on the main floor and a coffee shop on the third floor, the bookstore is a small but lively place with a lot of character according to Groenke.

“I really like that you can walk in not knowing what you want and walk out with something without even talking to people,” Groenke said. “Because that’s part of the beauty of a bookstore: It’s walking in and just wandering and experiencing.”

Gina Balibrera, creative programs and floor manager at the shop, believes Literati possesses qualities not found anywhere else.

“We are this small family business, but we’re trying to participate in national conversations and our team is mostly made up of writers as well as people who are just voracious readers,” Balibrera said. “We really put our heart and soul into the different sections that we have. Our poetry section is lovingly curated by poets or people who are part of the poetry conversation.”

With writing workshops, community education series, University-affiliated events and book clubs, Literati seeks to form bonds that make a family out of a group of strangers as well as answer the question of how a bookstore can become a communal space.

According to Hilary Gustafson, Literati’s main mission is to be a place within the cultural fabric of Ann Arbor, through partnerships with local businesses such as The Ravens Club, Kilwins and Spencer.

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